Tuesday, June 3, 2008

This is Freedom

There are two mini bumper stickers on my bike. One says, “I have no country to fight for. My country is the earth, and I am a citizen of the world.” The other one says, “This is freedom.” I’ll talk about the first one in a later blog entry. This one is about freedom.

I never experienced freedom until about the age of nine when my parents finally got round to buying me a bike. It was one of those big blue single speed girl’s bikes with balloon tires. I loved her dearly. After my dad taught me to ride, they forbad me to go out onto Chambers Road, the major arterial where we lived. They said it was too dangerous. But that was not a problem for me. The alleyway behind the house connected to a network of gravel roads beckoning me off into infinity. At every possible chance, I would get on my bike and take long rides through that flat Missouri countryside.

This was the late 1940’s just before the dawn of urban sprawl. We lived in a two story white brick New England style house. in the middle of an isolated block of seven homes in north St. Louis County. That was the first city street so to speak that had popped up in the rural countryside waiting as it was to be filled in over the ensuing years with millions of ranch style cracker boxes stretching as far as the eye could see.

But when I first got my bike the area was still rural, with distant destinations for a child to explore. There were friends to visit and mulberry trees to climb, ponds for catching frogs and shallow muddy streams wiggling with crayfish. (We called them crawdeads for some reason.) Using only back roads so as not to break my parent’s rule, I even found my way to the nearby town of Ferguson where there was a great library and Deckmeyer’s Drug Store. I didn’t have any money, but the pharmacist’s daughter, Lisa Deckmeyer, was one of my best friends at school so we sat side by side on ebony black stools leaning against their white marble fountain and drank free chocolate sodas and cherry cokes.

Freedom, after all, is getting to do what you want to do. It’s not being limited by what a parent, teacher, boss, or the norms of society want you to. It’s being open to sunshine and sailing through wind all on your own. It’s moving your limbs and growing stronger every day. It’s living life. My bicycle gave me that for the first time.

That was sixty years ago. But it’s still the same. I’m sitting up here in my office staring at this darned computer screen for hours on end. But then I look out the window and see Mount Rainier’s ice-blue glaciers shining against the sky. So I dream up an errand I need to run on my bike. Maybe I need to drop a book off at the library or go to the post office. Even though it’s a little out of the way, I just have to stop off at Kwik Cup Espresso, my favorite coffee shop, and have a latte. That way I might have another great conversation with Allen, the owner and connect some more with his wonderful spirit. After that, I’ll have to take a spin or two around the park on the way back so I can commune with nature for a bit. Freedom calls and she’s a bike.

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