My usual breakfast fare doesn’t normally include a hotel buffet line three miles from my house but when my friend Lynn is visiting Dallas and there is only a mere hour to spend together before the demands of work drag us back to our respective careers, I will make do with whatever is on the menu. This meal was the first opportunity for us to talk since his wife passed away a few months prior. Small talk isn’t his style so the conversation dove deep and the tears flowed. We are each, it turns out, suffering through a loss. He was grieving his spouse while I mourned the loss of my health and the planned future for my family. We comfort each other over bowls of tepid oatmeal and discussed the need to re-imagine life, one forged in the fire of this suffering.
“Bruce,” he said and a grin spread across his face, “I’ve got something in the works. Something, I think, that is going to be big,”
Lynn is a dreamer, always looking at the big picture. I was instantly intrigued by his proclamation. “Alright. Lay it on me.”
“I’m planning a bike ride to cast a new vision for my life.”
“Okay. Where are you going to ride?”
“The ‘vision tour’ will start in Kansas City and end eight-hundred miles later in Crested Butte.”
“It’s your personal Tour de France, but with fewer mountains and no yellow jersey at the end.”
“Yes, and I want you to join me.”
“In cycling there is a big group of riders that in tight formation who work together and become more aerodynamic, can ride faster and farther while expending less energy.”
“Yeah, sure, the peloton.”
“Exactly. Come be part of my peloton.”
“Man, I don’t know if I could ride eight miles right now, let alone eight-hundred.”
“Not whole way, just for a day. Ride the first leg from Kansas City to Manhattan.”
“How far is that?”
“Lynn, God didn’t build these skinny legs for endurance sports. I’ve tried and the result wasn’t pretty.”
“How about this, you could meet us along the way and ride the final fifteen or twenty miles into Manhattan.”
“I might be able to survive twenty miles, but I haven’t touched a bike in two years. I don’t even own a bike anymore, it was stolen out of my garage.”
“I’ll find a bike for you to use. Think about it.”
Lynn isn’t crazy, he’s a cyclist, and cyclists are fanatical when it comes to their sport. They have their own social clubs, language, clothing lines and, for many, their own rules of the road. They push their bodies to endure through the sweltering heat, bitter cold, driving rain and thrashing winds then celebrate the suffering while sharing hard earned pints of beer. It’s a fantastic world of camaraderie and friendship for those who find pleasure in the sensation of leg muscles burning in protest as the mind forces the body to peddle one more mile and to summit one more steep hill. For men like Lynn, who have a garage bursting with bicycles, are known by name at the bike shop and talk intelligently about pelotons, panniers and sag wagons, hours spent “in the saddle” are better than therapy.
Lynn’s “vision tour” across the Amber Waves of Kansas and into the Rocky Mountains made sense because he understands that life’s most difficult moments, the one’s that disrupt the routine of life and destroys best laid plans, whether caused by the death of a spouse or a terminal cancer diagnosis, are opportunities to reinvent yourself and experience God in new ways.
Not every person, however, plans a grueling bike ride to cast a vision for their life, but the process of re-purposing is a vital part of the healing process. There comes a time when it is necessary to face the suffering head on and forge through the jungle of emotions and uncertainty in order to understand how these experiences will impact the future.
I began re-envisioning my life the moment, twenty-one months ago, the doctor’s words, “The test was positive for cancer,” filled the silent hospital room. The re-imagining process is slow and tedious and there isn’t a single aspect of life that escapes the examination. Parts of life that seemed mundane were put under a microscope and scrutinized anew.
When I walked through the front door of my house after two weeks in the hospital it felt as though I was entering for the first time. Through the filter of a terminal cancer diagnosis the furniture, tile floors, ceiling fans and even the grass in the back yard felt new, as if I had never been in that house. My children greeted me with tender hugs and I wrapped my arms tightly around them, kissed them and savored the scent of their hair. The joy of that aroma was immense and I wept.
“Why are you crying, daddy?”
“I’m so happy to be home and see you again.”
“I’m glad you’re home too.”
At that simple act of a hug from my sons ceased to be a mechanical process of bending elbows, pressing flesh and a quick squeeze. Each hug from that day since serves to re-iterate the motivation for the hard work and sacrifice my wife and I put into nutritional therapies that are repairing my immune system so it can rid my body of cancer.
Scrutinizing the present and renewing passion for the future doesn’t happen overnight and requires asking both the big and little questions:
“Am I living for my highest calling?”
“How can I use this new knowledge to help others going through similar experiences?”
“How do I do a better job of managing stress?”
“Will the Kansas State Wildcats compete for the Big 12 title this year?”
“Am I doing enough of the right things to allow my body to heal?”
Following nutritional healing protocols is difficult work that requires complete transformation of habits and thought. Progress is tracked through a number of tests and the results I’ve received indicate healing is well on its way. Additionally, my physical condition, stamina and abilities continue to improve (this past weekend I scored the best nine holes of golf in over five years). These results are a gift from God that give hope on days when I am consumed with fear.
Lynn finished his vision ride but didn’t do it alone. There were a peloton of riders with him at nearly every stage along the way who sheltered him from the fierce Kansas winds, motivated him to push through the fatigue, engaged in probing conversations and celebrated when he crossed the finish line.
Like a group of cyclists whose communal efforts allow them to cut through the headwinds, travel faster and encourage each other to power through the fatigue our family continues to be carried along by the support and love of family and friends. Life, like cycling, is best done in a peloton.