I could say some things about today’s Harvest Century bike ride in the Washington and Yamhill counties, and why you should put it on the list for next year. I could try to describe the almost mystical feeling, riding past fields and forests in the muted light from a heavy cloud cover, and the cool smoky-sweet air we associate with this time of year. The real story of the day, however, is today’s riding companion.
Toe-knee is one of those rare, remarkable people who live their lives with intention, grace, and humor. You just want to be around people like her and hope that somehow, maybe by osmosis, you’ll get some of that mojo for yourself. Every member of her family is like that. For more than twenty years our family has looked up to each of them, and wanted to emulate them. That’s the real gift from riding today: the chance to re-connect with a dear friend and maybe get some more inspiration from her.
Forty-five miles into our ride together is when that inspiration came. She said, “Sometimes I wonder why I choose to keep doing this (cycling). Then I remember that Bethany didn’t have a choice, and that keeps me going.”
I framed that moment, and savored the meaning of it. What she had just said was heavy, important, and special.
Her daughter Bethany died of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia four years ago, just before her 22nd birthday. I let my own memories of Bethany flood back into my mind. Up came that familiar ache again, especially now listening to her mother who carries her memory with every ride. This was hard. Then again, nobody said that inspiration is easy.
Bethany. I remembered playing with her on Sunday mornings when she was in high school. She was an outstanding oboist. I’d write parts for her and her siblings to play on their respective instruments for church. I just remember being so proud of their sound. Not every church enjoys a chamber ensemble sound on Sunday mornings. That was cool.
I remembered her influence on our kids, especially our oldest son, G. Part of who he is now is Bethany’s doing, and I’ll always be grateful for that.
And I remembered playing for her memorial service, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. We lost a great treasure with her passing.
Toe-knee continues to work through her grief from that loss. Over time that work has moved into the realm of active advocacy. In her mid-fifties she has suddenly become a serious cyclist. And she’s good at it. Purpose can do that.
She now honors Bethany with a new-found commitment to riding, raising awareness, and gathering donations for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She has joined Team In Training to help her with logging the road miles, and gathering pledges from friends for her rides. It’s her way of doing something constructive in the wake of a profound loss.
That moment was framed by an otherwise upbeat, laughter-filled ride. Toe-knee is a master punster and she let a few fly during our time on the road. Just having time to re-connect now that we're no longer in the same town was priceless.
The thing I am grateful to have learned today, in an entirely new way, is that you never stop parenting your kids.