Last weekend I was taking a class where everything that could go wrong, quite possibly, did. On the final day of the class I woke up just tired and crabby, too late to take a shower, even though I was already a day in to the sweaty, murky heat of summer in the South East without one. I realized I wouldn’t have time to shower and get to class on time as I had overslept.
I threw some deodorant on and slid a comb through my hair…sprayed on some “dry wash” spray and headed out for our uptown classroom. Once there, I realized I’d dropped my wallet on the way so I quickly turned around and made a double route on my bike that humid Sunday morning, which means I produced twice the sweat as usual. So I arrived at class sweaty, tired and certainly unhappy to be told we were all going out to cycle some more. I was quite worried about how rank I was going to be at the end of the day. How would I smell, how would my hair look?
That afternoon we finished up our riding drills and two of my classmates from out of town wanted to go on a ride around Charlotte but were not quite sure of where to ride. So I nonchalantly told them, “I have a route.” So already sweaty and questionable smelling from two days of sweat and sketchy hygiene habits, I proceeded on a tour of the city with some out of towners and friends. We rode an eleven mile route and ended up back where we started next to Romaire Beardon Park. I had somewhere to be later, and really did not want to just go home on such a beautiful day. I was still thinking about stinking, so I did the next best thing to showering, which was to rinse off in the Romaire fountain and continue riding.
That night I returned from two days of riding outdoors at around seven pm. It was perhaps the best shower I ever had, but even better was the lesson I learned, which I’ve been learning ever since I went car free. Life, and myself, need not always be perfect. I need not always be freshly showered with beautiful coiffed hair and accessories. Life need not always be just so, without odd odors or small spills.
This morning I was sitting outside with my friend Heather after we each rode to meet at Duck Donuts for a phone meeting with some people from the NC State Active Routes to School organization. We were each glowing from our efforts in the humidity on bicycles. While we were sitting at our outside table, after our chat with Active Routes, we sat talking, like we always do. That’s how Heather and I have come up with our best ideas, which include, but are not limited to: Bicycle Friday and our last Donut Cake Party. While we were there it started raining a bit. I wondered if Heather would maybe want to get up and go in or go home, but she just sat there without even acknowledging it had begun to rain. It was then I realized that I hope I’m friends with Heather for a really long time. Not only because she doesn’t feel that rain will melt her, but also because she deals with the uncomfortable more gracefully than almost anyone I’ve ever known. The weird and the unusual don’t worry her. She has endless patience for sparky spirits everywhere. While we were there we watched birds gather on the sidewalk, talked to a mother and a child I knew a little about everything from raising a child with “issues” to the idea of riding a bike becoming something normal here, like it is in other places. I mentioned that I can see that on the horizon, and we should all just keep working towards it as if it’s a real possibility (because it is).
While I was there, I was thinking again about my own discomfort, and how much of it over time has come from my perception of how others might see me. My longing to be “normal,” that’s been a lifelong issue. My need to “fit in.” I’m in a place in my life, thankfully, where I know my best moments are when I let go of that need. Those times when I forget about my own stank and keep moving (maybe rinse out my hair) through time and space, and those times when I forget to apologize for my own weirdness. Those times I forget to try and be “normal.” Those are the times I love the best. Those are the times when I fly.
I’ve been ruminating on this for much of the week, and thinking about what it means to have the courage, the conviction of self acceptance. Not the reactionary kind, where we’ve learned to react to all the things with which we don’t agree or which we don’t accept, but something about learning to live in the grace of knowing yourself, deep down and knowing when to push past the comfort zones of normal all the way to exceptional.
It’s a work in progress for me, as I’m sure it is for most of us.