catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 21 :: 2007.11.16 — 2007.11.30


Around town

I have never been, by any stretch of the imagination, athletic.  I established my credentials as a nerd in fourth grade when I ran the wrong way with the ball during a recess football game and have never looked back.  I am not opposed to physical activity, I just have never been invited to participate in many games, and have not wanted to be.  I bike sometimes.  I snowshoe.  I build sand sculptures.  All of these are physical activity, but none of them are likely to attract much attention from Sports Illustrated

However, I am also 41 years old, and when my younger brother had a heart attack a few years ago, I began to worry about keeping fit.  I didn’t do much about it; I just began to worry.  All of that changed this year on the fourth of July.

The night before the fourth, I had this crazy idea.  I love to bike, I just hate having to deal with obnoxious cars that think they own the road (and, in this country, they do).  I also tend to wake up rather a bit earlier than most people.  So it occurred to me that if I went for a bike ride at 5:30 in the morning on the fourth of July, it would be likely that there would not be many people up and about.  Maybe I could enjoy a ride without having to deal with so many cars.

So the next morning I tried it.  It was amazing.

I rolled out of bed at five fifteen (which for me is actually sleeping in a bit).  I went straight out to the garage, hopped on my bike, and rode off into the dim but brightening morning. 

I biked down my street, past the houses of people I know.  (I live in South Holland, Illinois, which is a wonderfully diverse community recently declared by Forbes magazine to be the most affordably livable community in the Midwest based on house sales, quality of schools, low crime rate, and education level of inhabitants—if I were you, I would move here.)  I rode along the highway (which was pretty quiet) and then crossed Route 6 to get to the bike trail.

You don’t realize how amazing that is.  Route 6 is a five-lane retail street—no sidewalks—with fast food places and hotels and, where I cross it, a junction with an interstate highway.  During normal daytime traffic, trying to cross Route 6 is like a video game—no, it is like Russian roulette—no, it isn’t really like anything because you just don’t do it.  But on that fourth of July morning, I just rode across five lanes of traffic with not a car in sight.

Around the curve, past the Catholic school, and into the park.  I swung past the baseball fields and the playground where my children have played, and the street hockey rink that my neighbors enjoy, and then onto the bike path, through the high grass, and around past the pond.

I have biked past this pond before, but was utterly unprepared for what the early morning does to it.  The sun, low behind me, hit the mist rising from the water and I stopped the bike as quietly as I could.  We had seen a heron on the river just beyond the pond before, but right now I was looking at seven herons.  They were beautiful.  They walked through the water for a bit, then, when I slowly moved ahead, they silently took off and circled to the trees behind me.

Up the path along the river, then I turned onto another usually deserted street, then another turn back into a residential block.  I passed by the house of my daughters’ twice-a-week caregiver, Saint Martha (she really is a saint, at least in our book).  A little further on I exchanged a greeting with a guy who was drinking his coffee on his porch.  It was one of those I-don’t-know-you-but-we-both-live-here-so-this-isn’t-just-a-polite-greeting-it-is-a-recognition-of-shared-identity things (kind of like if you run into someone wearing the same sports team paraphernalia as you are—but I don’t know about that because I am a nerd). 

I sped on, past my daughters’ school (Calvin Christian School, where my wife also teaches—it really is the prototype of what a Christian school ought to be: intentionally racially diverse, socially aware, and passionately dedicated to raising children who will make a difference.  Have I mentioned that you really ought to move here?)…then down the street to South Park.

As I made the turn south, I looked up the street to South Holland hardware.  It is a cool store—the sort of place where you can meet and talk to people from your community whom you haven’t met yet.  It is owned and operated by Dale Ter Haar, whose family chose to commit themselves to my community at a time when many other white people were feeling the arrival of Christian brothers and sisters who had different colored skin than they did. It always makes me happy to see the store there, on a street that lacks a Wal-mart or Builders’ Square.  (If you want to open either of those, disregard what I said before about moving to my community—we’re doing just fine without you.)

Then I biked along a carless-stretch past the library where we know all the librarians, and they sometimes give us books to take to people they know we will see before they do.  Past the churches that stayed put when the white flight hit (and past a few that have changed denominational hands), then through an overshooting sprinkler.  A little further on I passed my mother-in-law’s street, the houses of some former students (one of whom is grown and working as the development director for my wife’s school.  Her energy and creativity make me smile.) 

There was no train at the crossing.  That was too bad.  If there had been, I could have added a nice bit here about how the trains remind me of the wider community, and how much I like graffiti and stuff, but that just didn’t work out.

A bit further, then I passed my doctor’s office.  (He was raised Catholic and has a strong moral vision of how to respond to insurance companies which involves him asking me questions like, “Are you sure you have never had any chest pain?  Because if you have, I think we can justify a stress test to the insurance company.”  He also is all about skipping prescriptions and instead handing out samples from drug companies.  And he likes to talk literature.)  That, of course, made me smile again.

Back behind the school, across the other tracks, and I found myself crossing another set of tracks and passing our favorite pizza place (buffet on Tuesday nights—if you lived here, you’d go too. I recommend the dessert pizza.)  Then one more carless street and back to our house (where we live with another family—stop by for dinner when you are in town looking for a house).

It was glorious and filled with grace.

The next weekend, I tried it again.  Turns out there aren’t many cars on Saturday mornings either.

Or Sundays. 

Or really during the week either.

When I think over the past year and the gifts God has given me, my community bike ride is the best.  Try it yourself in your community.  Or move to mine.

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