The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Archive for June, 2014

The Sweeper

The Sweeper

We sat at a diner, musing over coffee in our  leathers discussing route options for the next two days.  It was my trip, but I was still undecided about the choice of two possible routes for the first couple days.

My dad made his position clear.“Well…whichever one you take, when you look back I’ll be there.”

As with most thoughts worth having, this one rattled around in my head for a while over the next set of miles.  My dad and I have been riding together – in one capacity or another – for a long, long time.  I wasn’t exactly one to tuck in behind and just hang on for the ride.  I’ve always been the one to see a road, and think to myself, “huh…I wonder what’s down there?”

And more often than I can remember, I found out.

There’s something you should know about motorbike riders.  On group rides, there are two particularly important people. The Road Captain, and the Sweeper.  To be honest, most of my riding has been done on my own, without either one.  But when I do ride with a group, I’m usually the Road Captain, mostly by virtue of being the only one that’s been where we’re going.  There’s a lot more that goes into being a good Road Captain – a good sense of judgment, the ability to say “no” to one’s own curiosity in deference to the group’s intent to get where they’re going safely.  I’ve been a lot of places, I know a lot about the landmarks, the best diners, the best coffee, the best beers.  The interesting characters and history and scenic views – I make a decent tour guide.  And I can do pace calculations in my head pretty well.  On the other hand, those behind me learn pretty quickly that those scenic stops can come up all the sudden, and I’m not so good at accounting for the group behind me.  I’m good at making seasoned riders out of the folks behind me.

The Sweeper’s job is to be behind.  If someone breaks down, or needs to stop – whatever – the Sweeper stays back, and does what’s necessary to keep the group together.  That’s not to say he takes care of all the problems.  He’s back there to keep contact between the straggler and the group, and if there’s something he can do, fine.  But mostly, the Sweeper is just there.

My most consistent Sweeper has been my dad.

My first multi-speed bike, 1969, Loma Linda. Dad's already riding sweeper.When I was 2, and the front yard was still That Big Place I Haven’t Fully Explored Yet, every time I looked back, he was there.

When I was 8, and the gate was opened to me for the first time to take to the streets, I flew dow the asphalt.  And when I looked back, he was there.

When I was 16, and after years of being on the back held the throttle of my own motorbike on the street for the first time, I looked back, and he was there.  He wasn’t telling me what to do, or which way to go, or how fast not to go.  He had been there himself, and had some rough idea of how fast and far I could go.  He wasn’t there to instruct me.  He was just…there.

When at the age of 17 I told him my plans for my future, he wasn’t at the Door of Opportunity ushering me in.  He wasn’t pushing me into one Hall of Study or another.  He was just there.

When at the age of 19 I held the arm of my true love, and told him I planned to commit the rest of my life to her, he was there in the front row of the church.  Right behind me

When at the age of 21 my hand held the pen that would sign my name to an enlistment in the Navy, I looked to him.  He neither pushed nor pulled – he was just there

And here on this day halfway through my 52nd year I started east on another cross-country ride.  I asked him to ride a was with me.  And when I didn’t know which way I wanted to go, he only had one promise: whichever way I went, I could look back, and he’d be there.  Sometimes he’d help.  Sometimes he’d just talk while I figured out that what I had wasn’t a panic moment.  Sometimes he’d just watch – because, dang it, I was just that entertaining

And that’s the way it is with fathers.  They live their life.  They learn what they can, and if they do it well, they come prepared to have confidence in their children.  Or at least to act like it.  I don’t know if I’ve been so good at it with my own kids as he was, but then, I was kind of a different kid.  He seemed to understand that giving advice, trying to assist, involving himself until it became HIS life – wouldn’t really work.  Sometimes I wished, perhaps, that he’d have helped me a little more actively than he did.  But I can’t say I ever really felt left to my own fortune.  Always the Sweeper – he was there, but not to make me feel like a helpless tourist.  His presence gave me the hope that staying on the road was worth it, to at least someone.

These days, I’ve become the Sweeper.  I’m not quite as adept as he to be the one that has done enough on my own, and ready to be the one behind.  But I’ve learned enough of fatherhood to know that we each have to ride our own ride.  The single hardest thing about fatherhood, for me, is not getting on their bike and riding it up the road a spell for them.  It leaves them no more able to ride than before, and me 10 miles down the road from my own ride.  Their ride is their’s, alone.

And frankly, the most satisfying place in the world is behind your child, watching them succeed.

 

Showering the Brick Walkways

 I awakened to the last workday of the week, already occupied with the day’s worries.  A Man with five daughters has no shortage of cares, and my mind seemed determined on this day to give each one a good and proper fretting. I rolled towards my nightstand like a runner turning to the starter’s gun.

Three luminescent blue digits glowed dispassionately in an otherwise dark room.

2:07am.

Ready?  Go.

Worry #1: if I don’t go back to sleep I will be too tired to give the rest of my troubles my best.

(I’m nothing if not very, very good at lining up a long, nearly unbroken string of trifles to smooth the momentary gaps between major catastrophes)

But it was true, and the momentary distraction decoupled me from the matter that awoke me in the first place.  I realized that here in this quiet room I couldn’t conduct any of the day’s business and so could enjoy the moment without the niggling sense I should be doing…something.

So I just listened.

At first some of the day’s pressing matters threw words into the space where the night’s sounds gently breathed.  Quietly, the sound of rain on the brick below my bedroom window enveloped the room in its soft, persistent sound.  Rain on the brick.  Rain in the trees.  Rain on the roof, on the soil of my garden.  Rain, no single drop heard, but every drop counting.

I smiled like a child beneath a mothers blanket, smiling at the monsters rage.  I thought of my mother and the blankets she had made for me, the reassuring soft whoosh of the cloth landing against my chest, and the gentle voice reassuring me there are no such thing as monsters while hands tucked the sides in.  I knew there were monsters.  But I knew I had just been given Magic straight from the Queen herself, and that was as good as banishment to my foes.

In the adjoining room my son’s quiet breathing rose and fell.  His needs fill up most days, his comfortable respiration allowed me to move on, knowing the frequent pain he felt was at bay.  This watch-tower was secure, I patrolled on through the night.

I thought to sort through the business of the upcoming day.  In addition to my profession’s demands, Friday is a day to prepare, to put my house in order and make sure I am free to worship un-interrupted on my Sabbath.  I’m not a church-goer by any stretch, and my worship would probably not satisfy even the most liberal doctrine-minded of the saints.  But the act of Friday preparation is deeply engrained, a childhood tradition that connects me to a Greater Consciousness.  I cling to it like a lost sailor,  riding my galleon of gathered debris, picking up bedraggled mates amidst smoke and ruin.  But I prepare nonetheless.  A list of tasks was made and forgotten.  It would never keep till morning.

2:33am.

The glowing digits illuminate a few inches of the night stand’s edge.  One of the early log trucks broke the stillness, lumbering onto the highway a quarter mile away, and then waltzing its way through its gearing to fade into the upper valley, and eventually the hills themselves.  My eyes, drawn to the sound, think heavily on the faint glow through the slats on the blinds.  The full moon has broken through the clouds, a mother checking her child through a cracked door.  I pretend to be a sleep, and vaguely wonder why I am not asleep. The gentle voice of the earth repeats its quieting mantra – one that the light of day drowns out.

The rain returns, showering the brick walkway, and the garden soil, the lawn.  It showers my consciousness.

And it showers my unconsciousness.  Peace, watered and nourished, begins to grow, in a space otherwise forgotten and fertile in my head.