Wednesday, August 24.
It was early morning, likely before 9:00 a.m. I rode my new Trek bicycle west along Lower Road in a mid-Cape Cod town. Both the recently re-paved road and my month-old bicycle were smooth: no cratered surfaces and no grinding gears. I guided my bike with my left hand while my right hand held the cup of coffee I’d bought at The General Store. The breeze was gentle and the sun shone through the tree canopy and dappled the road. I knew from more than 19 years of running and biking along Lower Road that car drivers would give me clearance and I could admire the houses while I sipped my coffee. I heard birds above me and a lawn mower in the distance and waved to the occasional stroller-pushing jogger.
My default is anxiety, and I am (too) often risk-averse, faithless, despairing, regimented, unforgiving, detached, closed. Typically, my head is filled with anxieties and questions that prevent me from enjoying moments such as that bike ride: How could I be so frivolous as to buy a new bike? The old one still got the job done after 23 years. How could I spend money on a cup of coffee after spending money on a new bicycle? What was I, crazy? I could make coffee in the kitchen of our cottage. And the dappled sunlight was more hazardous than beautiful: it could render me invisible to car drivers until the moment when they hit me and I end up in Cape Cod Hospital in a coma. That’s what I would deserve for taking a vacation… a VACATION! when I should be working to pay off the bicycle, which was a huge mistake and would certainly bring about my financial ruin, if not the end of my pathetic life.
That’s the road my mind takes most days—but not on that Wednesday in August. When I recall exceptional moments of 2016, I remember most that bike ride. Initially, I thought it proved my fears that I am a selfish woman who wants everything to herself: the morning hours, a new bike, an annual trip to Cape Cod. So privileged and smug, relishing a social-media-ready-moment of “I am so humbly grateful to have these things others would envy.” However, it is not the material things or visible pleasures of that moment that made it so great.
That morning bike ride was a moment of freedom–giddy, hopeful, boundless, unrestrained, unburdened freedom. I was free that morning because I’d been brave; those moments have been the exception in my life, not the norm. Breaking from routine and doing something (for me) reckless liberated me from the usual anxiety that holds me back. The danger I fear so much in life isn’t in letting go; the danger is in staying bound by my anxieties and missing out on living.
My greatest moments of 2016 were like that bike ride. I added performer to the list of new-found endeavors I wish to pursue. ME! The woman who barely spoke throughout her undergraduate education and her first Masters program. I opened up more about my management of PTSD and enabled others to speak out and feel greater freedom from a disorder that can grip and suffocate those of us trying to live with it. I’ve taken time to write and submit my work, and have been published and awarded as a result. I’ve made myself vulnerable by asking for help from my husband, family, and friends, and as a result have emerged stronger myself and with strengthened bonds with others.
I want to carry that bravery with me into 2017—that willingness to break out of the confines of routine, realistically assess my strengths and the support of those around me, and LIVE. It is at those moments when I’ve moved ahead and grown, whether by discovering skills I never knew I had, gaining a stronger marriage, or expanding my life to include people and experiences I would have missed otherwise.
That Wednesday morning in August, my bike ride ended at the beach along Cape Cod Bay. I stripped to the Speedo I’d worn under my biking clothes, tucked my ‘fro under my swim cap, donned my goggles, and walked into the waves. I swam parallel to the shore, glimpsing the beachfront homes and the limitless blue sky on alternating breaths, and watching the shifting sand and bay grass below me in between. I never thought I’d become a swimmer, yet to everyone on the shore, that’s what they saw: a woman swimming in the waves of the bay.
I did not have the endurance that day to make it to the distant jetty without having to stop. That’s okay. I will make it to the jetty without stopping this summer. I know that I have the ability, the strength, and the support to be brave and make it happen. Secretly, I believe that I will make it beyond the jetty. That and so much more will happen in 2017. In my mind’s eye on this cold, final day of 2016, I see a woman swimmer in Cape Cod Bay in August, slicing through the waves and passing the jetty toward the limitless blue sky.
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