I needed to find my balance. This wasn’t an existential crisis with which I was dealing. No, this had far more practical implications: I wanted to ride a bicycle. My brother Pete had a two-wheeler and after watching him and scores of other kids of all ages ride up and down the road on which we lived, I wanted to do it, too. But how?
You see, I was born with the equilibrium of a frat boy after an all-night keg party. I possess the balance of a two-legged bar stool. I trip over things, those things most often being my own feet. I fell down two steps several years ago because I was admiring our cat and ended up having not one, but two foot surgeries. A neurologist once made me walk heel to toe in his office and after about three steps of trying and failing, he actually said, “Let’s just hope you never get pulled over for drunk driving because you would fail stone-sold sober.” Gee, thanks, doc. I didn’t know any of this at the time I wanted to learn to ride a bike, I just knew that I had tried to ride one and couldn’t do it. But then something truly life changing, at least for an eight-year-old, happened: my brother offered to teach me.
Pete is nine and a half years older than I am; therefore, we did not have much in common. He was off doing teenage things while all I could do was stare longingly at a bike I couldn’t ride. His friends were always extremely kind to me, though, so much so that to this day I can remember their names and faces. But I was always the tagalong little sister, the team mascot, if you will. And while the mascot is fun to have around during the pre-game festivities, when it’s time to hit the court the mascot is relegated to the sidelines. So while Pete was hanging out with his teenage friends, I was alone either in the woods behind our house or in my room, writing. It was okay, though. From a young age I always relished solitude. But here my brother was now, willing to give up his time to teach me to ride a bike.
So it began. First, we needed a venue. Since our house was on a hill, our driveway was too steep for lessons. The two homes across the street, however, shared an extra wide driveway perfect for our lessons to commence. Day after day my tall, thin, teenage brother held the back of his bike while I pedaled. Whenever he felt I was somewhat in balance, he would let go. I would promptly wobble and begin to fall. His hands quickly reached out to catch me. I don’t remember falling very often; two or three times, maybe, but the desire to get it right and the encouragement of my big brother kept me going. Sometimes we went clockwise around the oval of that driveway, while other days it became a NASCAR track (“Take a left! Take another left!”). All the while I pedaled, Pete held on, let go, then grabbed hold of the bike as I began to fall. I’m not sure how long these lessons continued. To me, it seemed like the entire summer, but it may have only been several weeks. But day after day, week after week, the lessons continued. I began to think it was hopeless, but my brother did not give up on me. Then, one day…magic. I was pedaling along, clockwise, when a shift occurred. I was no longer wobbly. I was no longer unsteady. When I rounded the next corner, I noticed that my brother was at the other end of the driveway, smiling from ear to ear, just watching me ride. I was doing it. I was balancing myself and riding a two-wheeler all on my own. My brother never looked so proud of me.
I found my balance at age eight. Throughout the decades since, I have lost that elusive equilibrium, metaphorically speaking. Examples abound of a life that quite assuredly became unbalanced. I allowed my body to reach 306 pounds. I remained in a job that I hated because I was fearful of the unknown. I developed and continue to struggle with chronic pain. But as I look back on this memory of achieving such perfect balance, a memory I had buried until a silly television commercial brought it back into my consciousness as swiftly as a lightning bolt, I wonder if the memory of that summer and all it meant to me can have a deeper meaning.
The me who played in the woods and wrote alone in my room has always thought that aloneness was my superpower; that I did not require any other humans to achieve anything. Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps balance is found by surrounding oneself with the kind of support that can only be found in other people. I have a husband who is everything to me. I do not have many good friends, but those who are truly my friends form a foundation in my life that no earthquake could crack. And I could not have learned to ride a bike without the unconditional love and patience of my big brother.
Three years ago our father passed away; our mother would join him in the afterlife 18 months later. Because of the difference in our ages and gender, I am certain our experience during this time of overwhelming grief was quite different. Our families and friends were there to comfort us, but we also held each other up. Pete’s calmness and medical knowledge provided the reassurance I needed that neither of our parents suffered. My writing helped with a eulogy to honor both of them because words come more easily to me. There are many more examples, but they all basically point to the same thing: balance. I guess the best way I can look at it is when the giant cosmic see-saw of life lifts you up and then drags you back down again, sometimes what you really need is your big brother there to hold you steady until you can once again find your balance and ride off on your own.