The first time I rode a motorcycle it was on the back of my brother’s dirt bike. Neil was barely 13, full of sullen anger, the tinny sound of the engine a high whine, he would put the bike through its gears, skirting trees as he traversed woody paths.
Who knows why, but when I asked, he shared the biking experience with his 6 year older sister.
On the back, scared and yet enthralled, I learned to lean into the curves and trusted the strength of his young body and mind to safely navigate our trips. This kind of bike riding was addictive and over the next several years, as Neil’s taste in bikes changed and his sullen nature matured, he shared them with me.
Riding on a motorcycle is a strange kind of freedom. It’s moving through space, fast, with nothing between you and the world around you. That’s why it’s so dangerous and that is why it’s addictive. Over the years I have shared a ride or two with Neil and more occasionally with my brother-in-law, almost always riding in the passenger seat. I have had my share of muffler burns and the few times I attempted to drive it was more scary than freeing.
At the beginning of May, for reasons that are probably complex and about temporary freedom of his own, Neil borrowed a bike and drove from Ft Worth to Houston to visit. After dinner, right at dusk, I asked. “Yeah, get on. We won’t wear helmets tonight. I will be careful. Watch out for the muffler.”
I sat behind him, my hands placed gently at his waist and noticed his shoulders and back were still strong but older and thought about the past.
The moon was just leaving full and I talked loud directly into ear over his shoulder as the engine whined. ‘That’s a blue moon, Neil.” “Yeah, he says, “the first of two full moons in a single month.” I relaxed into the seat, trusted his ability and his care, and for a moment was free.
Free not to worry or doubt or be sad or think anything other than hear the loud wind rush past my face and feel as my body reacted to the acceleration on whatever straight-aways the road provided. When we got back from our ride I wanted to tell Neil what it meant to me. All I said was thanks. Over the years I have come to appreciate men for their use of economy of words. Mind you, sometimes it’s annoying, but many times, its all that is appropriate.
At about this time, a friend of mine fulfilled his lifelong dream with the purchase of a street bike. Nothing fancy, but a good first starter and I suspect the indulgence of a measure of freedoms of his own that he needed.
It had been a while since I had seen David, a lot can happen in people’s lives in a month and so at the end of May we planned to hit some tennis balls. Finally the evening came, after postponements and delays for Houston summer rains. Coaching me through some bad habits and laughing and talking a bit we got ready to call it a night.
“You want a ride?” he said, “I finished my safety course.”
We packed up the tennis balls, he had me strap on his lone helmet, and right at dusk, with the second full moon in May, we set out.
We rode on quiet roads east of Houston, where the flat lay of the land allows you to feel the sunset long after the light is gone.
“It’s a pretty night,” I yell across his shoulder, hearing the familiar scream of wind and beginning to lean into the acceleration of the bike. There is a special kind of thinking you do when you are that close to the world around you.
“Yeah,’ he says, “a blue moon”.
I let myself, for the second time in a single month, feel the freedom of a motorcycle ride. I know that Jake’s last moments on this earth were about this freedom ona full-moon lit night a year and half ago. A small tear rides the wind and a heartfelt prayer is sent skyward. The ride winding down, back in David’s neighborhood, David says “watch the muffler” as we pull into his garage.
David’s been one of those friends who continue to find ways to shoulder the burden of loss with me. He says, “I got you something. I had some decals made of Jake’s crede. I thought you might want to put one on your car.” I look at him.
“Let’s put one on my bike.” In companionable silence, we do just that, and it looks right, like it was painted on the tank.
“Thanks, for the ride and the decals, David”, I say as I wave and get in my car.
Only for a moment do I hope he knows how much those few words mean. He’s a man, I know he does.
“Anytime Janet,” he says.
On the way home I think how good, how much I cherish the freedoms I have, the temporary ones and the ones that are more permanent. Like the freedom that God grants me to question and mull things over in my mind and the steadfastness that He shows me of His love, through friends and bikes and blue moons months.
Happy Monday. I wish you a few temporary freedoms, but most of all I wish you real freedom.
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32