Friday, July 6, 2012

Of Bikes and . . . Music, of course!

I went on an outdoor bike ride this morning all by myself.  How have I let a decade pass since doing more than just biking to the park with kids?!  The joints and cartilage in my body don't seem to have much staying power so the kinds of exercise I have been reduced to doing is low impact, strengthening or stretching types of activities - all of which are convenient at my local recreation center, but I think I've sheltered myself for too long.

After spending an hour fixing inner tubes,
taking off old child seats, failing to fix training wheels, adjusting chains and helmet straps yesterday so that my children and I could go on a little bike ride - only to turn back after ten minutes - I felt like a need had been bottled and a large cork shoved into it.  This same thing happened the day before when we took the kids up the mountain with my aunt, cousin and parents, only to turn back before getting very far.  I felt fit to burst.  Every effort to exert myself in the beautiful summer weather, among the trees and grass and flowers had been thwarted!  It was a real feeling of pressure building inside me from this unsatisfied desire that was only growing stronger.  So... I took off!
I got on my old unsophisticated mountain bike that I've had since I was a teenager and ventured out on a long solo bike ride while my kids slept.

Despite the seat stuck in too low a position, the noisy breaks and the wacky unregulated gears - it was the most wonderful idea I've had in a long time! The freshness of the air, the beauty of the paved trail I followed, the difference in the level and "naturalness" of the exercise - it was all so enlivening and inspiring.  Would that it could always be biking weather!

It has brought back memories of running early in the morning as a teenager.  I would go at 5am before school.  The street lights or my mother's car following behind would make the black, wet asphalt sparkle, and the snow that often lined the road was such a beautiful contrast (the difference in my mom and I's height never made for good running partners, but she didn't let that stop her from coming with me:).  If only my spine and knees allowed me to run still.  I remember now how invigorating it was; how the heat of my body created an odd, but welcome comfort in contrast to the cold air; the "runners high"; the feeling of accomplishment that burned in my lungs; the flexibility of my muscles when I'd stretch after finishing.

Half way through my ride, I stopped at a park to stretch and do some strengthening exercises and I found myself wondering: maybe music has the same two versions of itself just like exercise - the artificial sheltered version and the living, breathing, real version. I guess I've always known this, but it finally came to my conscious thought maybe because of an experience yesterday.  I found my frequent earbud "friends" getting on my nerves.  The constant flow of music - even though it was Bach and Brahms pieces I usually found uplifting and inspiring - became abrasive to my ears.  The whole day I just wanted to drive or clean or exercise in silence - only audiobooks or speeches/talks, but even then not so much.  Something about the lack of human connection - of live communication - was bothersome. I think I've been in a cave for too long.

What would happen if I and my family spent a whole month (or more) only listening to live music? Or only enjoying live entertainment? Would we get out our instruments and create music more often? Would we share a book together more readily? Would we seek out more live concerts?  Would we find more time to go on walks together and talk with our neighbors?

No one can doubt the use and blessing of recorded music.  I've taught my own students to surround themselves with well-played inspiring music. "How can you learn the accent of a foreign language if you rarely hear that language spoken by its native speakers?" I've often told them.  Yet, I'm starting to wonder if the blessing of perfectly played, always at your fingertips, recorded music has become a curse as well.  Has it lessened our ability to truly appreciate and enjoy the artistry and mastery of those professional musicians because we aren't getting "in the trenches" enough trying to create our own music?  Like the difference between the way a builder looks at a building and how I look at a building.  A builder would notice the strengths and weaknesses of construction, would appreciate the exactness he might find in the parts that make up the whole, he would know from experience what skill and careful attention had to have been used.  In comparison, even if I took time to look and see, my appreciation for the building would be very shallow indeed.

Isn't this a growing problem in the world today?  So many perfect things made without much effort, or so far removed from our awareness that we are becoming more and more shallow in our range of gratitude and appreciation.  We have more convenience, but less lasting happiness. More time to accomplish, but less joy in our accomplishments.  More awareness of our own abilities, but less love and knowledge for things outside our specialization.  We seek entertainments and thrills more and more - is this because the natural joys that are all around us appear more and more simple because we are blind to their complexity and beauty of creation?  

I don't know that I'd go backward in time and get rid of all these advancements in technology, but I do think I'll ride my bike more this week and seek some better balance between the "real" and the "manufactured."


  1. I liked your builder analogy. It is good to get in the trenches. See how the sausage is made (but in a good way);). I have found great joy recently in reading to Cam when he gets home. Even though we love to listen to audiobooks together. I have found that we discuss more together what we are reading and have an opportunity to testify (if you will) to each other. There might be more opportunity to do this since we are reading a religious book, but I think that there are truths found in any great literature that, in my experience, are more readily discussed when read aloud to each other, than stopping a recording, which feels like more of an interruption.

  2. Such beautiful insights and analogies Kate. I love your idea of taking a bike ride in the cool morning air ALONE! There is so much power in aloneness sometimes. It is so invigorating. i just started exercisisng regularly again in May and it has been so wonderful. I feel like a younger, better version of myself! I didn't think that was possible. Happy bike riding!