To Fellows, With Love

(Preface: I’ve spent the past two weeks at the Global Health Corps Training Institute with 128 fellows from 22 counties between the ages of 22-30 who are spending one year in a global health fellowship in one of six placement countries. If you are interested in learning more about this program, please get in touch or check it out at: http://ghcorps.org/. I made this post public in case it might move you to shake and shape and create the world in which you wish to live).

This year…

ghc whole crew

Photo Credit: GHC 2014

…This year will be transformational.
I know, it’s a buzz-word that I was skeptical of in the beginning,
but now I have no other word for it.

This year will look like heart and passion.

This year will look like finally living the life I always wanted to live. 
This is the year for trying.
Of doing it scared.
Of taking chances and seeking out opportunity-
and where opportunity doesn’t exist, creating it. 

This year I will look at life experiences, social justice, and stories
from many perspectives other than my own.
Because my worldview has vastly expanded-
I’m not sure where the end-line boundaries are anymore on this life map that I’ve thrown to the wind. Because this new space feels big and real and way more rich in love and wonder and exploration than ever before. 

This is the year for asking questions. Lots of them.
Questions about people’s life experiences,
the things I don’t understand, the things that move my heart,
the deep questions that unfurl streams of inexplicable beauty.

This is the year to say what I really want to say,
no matter how vulnerable it feels,

and even if doing so might elicit tears… perhaps even more so.

MO 2014

MO 2014

Because I’ve tasted life in authentic community.

Because I’ve seen how much more enjoyable it is when
we collaborate instead of compete.

Because people I’ve known for just a couple weeks have generously and bravely shared parts of themselves with me… and I won’t take these conversations lightly as I hug these truths, these stories, these gems close in my heart.

Because I’ve been inspired.

As I lay here alone in my room tonight, it’s tempting to start to settle back into some of my old ways, but I come back to the realization that even if this fellowship year were to suddenly end tomorrow, it will have been nothing short of transformational.

But it’s not going to suddenly end. In fact, with just two weeks in,
it really, really is just beginning.

And when those final weeks close in, I know we’ll say, “Hellooooo fellows,”
gather ’round the table one last time in solidarity
and exchange stories we can only dream about now.
It will be amazing.
But until then, we have work to do.
And I’m so grateful to do it alongside folks amazing as you.
See you in Rwanda…
with a soccer ball.

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MO 2014

WOOF Puerto Rico June 2014: Farming, Skinnydipping & An Invitation To Get Into Life

“Ok, so I”ll send you my flight information and see you on the 17th!” I replied as I hung up the phone, shocked and excited. I just confirmed a week long stay at Luquillo Sanctuary Farm in Puerto Rico through a program called WWOOF- Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. In exchange for a half a day’s work on a family’s farm, WWOOFers receive free room and board at one of thousands of farming sites across the world. This farm is a small, developing farm in Puerto Rico along the foothills of the El Yunque Rainforest. The opportunity sounded like Heaven, along with a whole lot of anxiety provoking unknowns. What if the people I stayed with weren’t who they said they were? Was this safe? But the predictable life depleted of risks leaves us believing that strangers are scary, that safety is quintessential as we choke on our own comforts.

So I flew into San Juan on June 17 not knowing why I had come on this journey, but positive that it would help me learn to embrace life in all of its fullness. The host farmer picked me up from the airport, luggageless as my bags had been loaded onto another flight, and brought me to the campground where I’d be stay for the week. I was greeted by three other WWOOFers from Texas and Czech Republic. Nothing but the backpack on my back, they showed me a tent I could sleep in temporarily and gave me some sheets. Just go with it, I told myself, and fell asleep in a stranger’s tent, lying beneath cocqui frogs and insomniaic bulls that groaned all night long.

machetteIn conversations over digging farming beds and mowing the lawn with machette knives throughout the week, I learned much about Puerto Rico. The US provides an estimated $6.7 billion in aid to Puerto Rico, mostly in provision of food stamps and subsidized housing, while the US receives almost $58 from Puerto Rico through imports and manufacturing. “Instead of growing our own produce, much of the food is shipped into the island from other countries because it’s cheaper,” my host farmer shared. It was a startling wake up call to the reality of the pitfalls of capitalism and untapped resources. On our daily walks to the beach, we pass mango tree after mango tree and simply reach up to chomp on fresh fruit. Sure enough, when we went to the grocery store, our carrots were from Georgia and fruit from Central America. We could eat local. But there simply lacks farming infrastructure and political will.

That’s where farms like Luqillo are slowly changing this. Part of Luqillo’s mission is to be a non-profit organic educational farm for children, teaching them hands-on skills. On Saturdays, kids from the neighborhood come to work on the farm. That’s when I met Gabriel, a sweet 12 year old, who, when it was time to fill our buckets with the dug up grass from the rows we picked, turned it into a contest raced us up to the top of the hill, winning time afer time again. It’s awesome to think about how these kids might grow up differently from those around them. Grow up different because their hands have touched the grounds of where their food was birthed. They are closer to the Earth and will respect it.  They will be leaders after tasting a bit of what life can be when you live outside the status quo for your town.

After a wonderful week of farming and climbing through the El Yunque Rainforest, we capped off the week of farming with a trip to Culebra, a small island East of mainland Puerto Rico, my eyes meeting vast aqua waters for the first time. Mountainous cliffs lining the countours beckon you to dive in. My friends shared their snorkling masks, which opened up a whole new world of wonder, discovery. A rich reminder that there is EVEN so much more out there than we can fathom.

Traveling opens your eyes to new people, new cultures, new landscapes. And now, it opened me to the life beneath the water. The coral reefs right there below. Fish of many hues and sizes darting in and out of caverns. I’ve always known there’s a huge whole world above us- being the night sky filled with billions of stars, most of which are imperceptible to human eyes. And now, to be reminded of entire ecosystems below the surface of the water, I am blown away into wonder and grandeur and mystery. As the sun sank below palm trees, we built a fire on the beach and ran streaking into the water skinny dipping. It was everything I’d cracked it up to be, minus my second jellyfish sting of the night.

As we took the ferry back to mainland Puerto Rico, I chatted with Lena, a student in microbiology at the University of Puerto Rico. “It’s amazing because here I am on this one part of the island, in one school, and there’s all this out there,” she shared in awe. I told her that’s how I feel when I look up at the stars.  Together, the stars and waters below sing of a world that feels even bigger.
IMG_1042We are invited into a life that tells us to look up, look around, look below. A life that takes the attention away from worries or our own selfishness because so many beautiful places exist without the contribution of human hands. Rainforests. Coral reefs. They will continue making beautiful and we will be here to awe, wonder, and appreciate hopefully with hearts that treat the Earth with the kindness its placid ways deserve.

I can’t believe I’d ever think to miss out on trips like this because I was afraid. Afraid to stay with people I never met before. Afraid to try something so unknown. But never again.

All of this has left me in love with the world, lusting after all the places that I will never get to taste, see, or touch simply because the world is huge- reminded like they sang in the Lion King that there is “more to be seen than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done.”

It pains me because I will always want more. I will always want to see more, to keep needing to press the zoom-out button on my worldview lens because it keeps expanding. But instead of loathing that it’s all too much, I celebrate that tonight. I celebrate the opportunity we have to do some of that seeing and doing while we still have breath in our lungs. Because we have been invited to get into life.

Get into the kind of life that loves this world, all of it, the things you cannot see under ocean waters when you fly over them.
Get into a life that looks up regularly. For inspiration. For perspective. For no other reason than to use the eyes you’ve been given.
Get into a kind of life that loves people- loves to get mouths and hearts talking about the things that really matter to each one.
Get into loving God, your creator, whatever that name is to what/whom you attribute the great celestial connection of earth and land and people and connection. I am finding God is out here everywhere, especially in laughter, showing me the light at the end of the tunnel to all of my unfounded fears. I watch this God and this world take away my fears like carbon dioxide as I release the poisons that trap and breathe in the invitation to this new kind of life.

Because the adventure is calling in whispers and shouts across the sky, “Will you get into life?” 

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Tales from the Rubbish Heap

In 2013, I met talented, creative, and gracious writer friend Amber Cadenas. Today I share a story about the juxtaposition of life and death as a part of her “Tales of Beauty from the Rubbish Heap” series on her blog “Beautiful Rubbish.” If you enjoy reading about spirituality, grace, and finding God in everyday experiences, be sure to check out her Facebook page for updates.
http://amber-beautifulrubbish.blogspot.com/2014/05/tales-of-beauty-from-rubbish-heap_27.html#.U4S7-_ldUuP

 

Photo credit: Amber Cadenas

Photo credit: Amber Cadenas

What My Heart Beats For.

IMG_0675Falling in love without fear or hesitation
The evening sun sinking like a golden backdrop behind magnolia blossoms
Flowers that sing of emerging hope in spring
Snow days in winter

High fives and peace signs
Standing on my pedals while biking downhill
Strangers acknowledging each other with a jovial, “hello!”003
The view of the world while up-side-down in a cartwheel

All this is what my heart beats for
Oh this is what my heart beats for

Seeing people I love in my dreams at night
Barefoot walks on soft grass
My sister’s laugh
Nothing-to-hide smiles20140419_135824.jpeg

Raising hell and creating heaven
When people say what they really want to say
Watching a woman fall in love bicycling
End-to-end rainbows shouting ROY-G-BIV

All this is what my heart beats for
Oh this is what my heart beats forny 12

Catching elderly people in unadulterated moments of touch and affection
The last ten seconds before the finish line at peak speed
The sanctuary of warm evenings on the front porch
Spontaneous play

mel cliff jump

Living out of my boldest dreams and creativity
instead of debilitating fear and doubt
Healing touch
Looking people in the eye
The three seconds after jumping off a cliff, body entangled in open air, before landing in water

All this is what my heart beats for
Oh this is what my heart beats for.

The questions and conversations that ensue from lying beneath dark star-filled skieselephants
Gathering around the table in beatific communion
Seeing animals face-to-face in the wild that I’ve only ever seen caged in zoos
Late night heart-to-hearts reminding me that each human heart contains some of the very same pieces

Laughing at myself and taking down my defensive wallssouth korea plane
The velocity of take off
Landing in a place my senses have not experienced before
Gentle rains hitting the Earth at night, a steady lullaby

All this is what my heart beats for,
Oh this is what my heart beats for.

All of this tastes of Heaven on Earth
A portion so sweet, tears collect in the corners of my eyes
Reminding me how beautiful it all is
I take one more breath, not wanting to close to my eyes

Copyright MO 2009

Copyright MO 2009

I want to see it, touch it, taste it, inhale it, exude it, splash in it, roll in it, make waves in it
No skipping beats, no wavering from the present
Steady my heart; this is what keeps it beating
A rhythm that cannot be quelled

And one day, death it will arrive
But life will just be getting started

We’ll meet on the other side;
A heartbeat yielding to the soul’s beat of all that cannot be explained.

Confessions Of a Woman in a Bike Shop (Plus Strategies to Get More Women-and men- Into Shops + On the Road)

bike blueHe pointed to his back tire. I knew now what that meant. I believe it was his way of subtly but firmly saying, “I see you’re pushing yourself. You’re reaching that point where you’re getting close to exhausting your energy. I want to see you succeed. Draft off my wheel and keep going because you’re capable. NOW GO.” I nod and stare intently at his back wheel, no longer worried of hitting his back tire like I used to fear in the beginning. I trust my instincts and that he was paying attention to the road and traffic around us. It feels so good to have allies, now, I think to myself, and we attack the remainder of our sprint. It’s Wednesday night and I’m riding on my local bike shop’s weekly ride. I’m one of three females out here—something I’m making my mission to change— but at least it no longer feels intimidating. I can’t speak for all of the men out here, but the ones I’m getting to know so far are allies, open to hearing new ways to support women in cycling.

It hasn’t always been that way. Like many women, I’ve battled feelings of inadequacy, intimidation, and fear in bike shops and on the road, despite having grown up biking with my dad in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, and being a triathlete since 2005. In fact, it wasn’t until 2012, when I signed up to ride in a 365 mile women’s bike ride across Maryland with World Relief, that I even learned basic bike mechanics. The great folks at Race Pace gave our team a general bike maintenance overview, including instructions on how to change a flat tire. But being a tactile learner, I went home that night and quickly forgot everything I was taught. It wasn’t until I started consistently bike commuting in spring 2013 that I realized there’s no way to fully avoid a flat tire and knew it was time tackle this skill. I confess, I went to a bike shop and paid to have it done the first time. The mechanic let me intently peer over her shoulder to learn—and my, was it awesome to learn from another woman. “Just practice in front the TV and you’ll get the hang of it,” she encouraged me. Satisfied with simply being able to successfully get home, I called it a night.

When I had a little more time, I went to another bike shop to buy tubes. “What size do you need?” the gentleman asked. What size do I need? Why don’t I know this stuff!? I thought. “I don’t know; what kind do you need for a road bike?” I asked, sheepishly. I learned that I needed 700×23-25c and scribbled this in my notebook as newfound vocabulary as soon as I got home. It wasn’t until my second and third flat that I used the tubes and gave myself a pep talk: “You’re gonna fix this damn thing if it takes you all night!” I then You-Tubed, grumbled expletives, levered, and pumped my way through fixing a flat 38 minutes later- a long time, I know, but at least it was a starting point.

As I began training for my first half Ironman, I began having gearing issues. “What kind of gearing do you have?” the gentleman at the bike shop asked.  Here we go again… why do I STILL not know this stuff? “Um…” He came from behind the checkout counter and started counting: “3×9,” he shared, which I scribbled in my notebook later on that night.

After addressing the gearing issues, it wasn’t long before I experienced shifting issues on a training ride. So I went back to the bike shop and spent five minutes trying to describe what was happening when I shifted. “I’ll take it outside, shift through all the gears, and I’m sure I’ll figure out what you mean,” the gentleman reassured me. A couple minutes later, he came back in the shop. “I see what you mean. It’s skipping gears.” Yeah. Skipping gears. That’s what I was trying to say. The staff pointed out all sorts of parts I needed and $238.35 later, I made a commitment to learn how to do some of my own repairs and to actually understand the parts I even ordered. I spent months bingeing on Youtube bike anatomy videos, scribbling in my bike notebook, and vowed to lift my head a little higher each time I entered the bike shop.

Fast forward to now, and I love everything about going to the bike shop. The new tire smell. The myriad of shiny bikes that inspire me to dream of new races to register for. A place to test out the vocabulary I’ve accumulated and to laugh at myself when I invent names for parts that don’t exist— like I did last night. Ask me to tell you my story about “lib nuts.” But I think the thing I love most, though, is that my eyes now meet the eyes of each employee and my voice is louder than when I first walked in. I stand a little taller and don’t beat myself up when I mis-name a part.
Bike shops can be an intimidating place for some women initially, but it doesn’t have to remain that way. I believe that women can make a conscientious effort to familiarize ourselves with bike terminology and to practice effective communication skills. To go into the places that make us feel uncomfortable, even if we’re nervous. To ignore any internal dialogue of inadequacy and to remember that most people in the shop just want to see you experience the joy of cycling. To do it scared. To say yes. To surprise ourselves. Because I’d rather lack knowledge (and learn) than lack courage to embark on something new.

There are some things bike stores can do, however, to become a little more “female-friendly.” Take a look and share your comments & experiences below:

-Hire more female staff. An estimated 89% of bike shop owners are men, while 33% are owned by a husband-wife team, and 45% of paid bike advocacy staff are female. If more women are hired as bike mechanics and employees, perhaps more women will feel a sense of belonging.

-Conduct free or low cost bike mechanic workshops at the store. This is a sign that the store is safe to newbies and less experienced riders, thus making it more inviting to ask questions without fear of how it will be perceived. Furthermore, 26% of women say that learning more about bicycling skills would encourage them to ride more. Similarly, 20% of respondents in a 2010 Women Cycling survey said that a bike repair class would cause them to start or increase their riding.

-Host women’s rides from the store. While I realize a male-only ride can be off-putting, given that men outnumber women in riding 3:1, a ride designated for women can tilt the pendulum back to center and provide an unintimidating space to ask questions. And hey, since you’re at the bike shop anyway, it’s easy to go into the store afterwards for parts or tools. If you live in the Baltimore area, check out Twenty20′s women’s rides- 9:30 AM the second Sunday of every month.

-Examine the interior for subtle gender messages. Are all of the shop’s wall posters pictures of men biking? Is the TV in the store only showing men’s cycling events? Take a mental note the next time you’re in a bike shop as to what images you see. I did this recently and every piece of wall art featured a white male cyclist. While there isn’t anything inherently wrong about this, there also isn’t anything inspiring or inclusive of the rest of the world that’s not a white male. A few small changes in ambiance can help convey the message that women belong in the biking world.

-Stock child carriers and trailers. One factor that some women cite as a barrier to cycling is the inability to carry children and other passengers (19% of women reported this, compared to 7% of men). To increase ridership among different demographics, such as mothers and fathers, bike stores can have on display children’s bike seat attachments. If you’re going to promote the product with a poster advertisement, earn a brownie point for featuring a man toting his child via bike instead of a woman.

While we’re on the topic of reaching different types of cyclists, let’s place panniers and fenders on visible display to inspire men and women to commute and run errands via bicycle. Women comprise 24% of trips taken by bike, but on average, take an additional 110 trips per year than men, so same as above: if you’re going to have a poster promoting these products in the store, show a picture of a woman riding a bike with panniers and fenders to challenge gender norms.

It’s not just women who benefit from inclusive settings. As Chicks on Bike radio points out, not every man cycles competitively, so making bike shops more friendly in general can go a long way to make both genders of every ability level feel welcomed.

Moreover, we also know that both men and women cite traffic safety (both perceived and actual), lack of infrastructure, and the inability to bring bikes on other forms of public transit (such as trains) as a few of the many reasons for not biking, so in the mean time, let’s keep riding, keep advocating, and keep educating our friends and family on the realities of cycling.

See you on the roads—


For more info, check out the following resources:

Local Baltimore Bike Collectives:
Bearings Bike Project and Velocipide Bike Project: Open environments designed to be safe spaces for learning about all things bikes, including how to do your own bike maintenance.

Local Baltimore Bike Advocacy groups:
BikeMore- advocating for biker rights, bike friendly infrastructure, and increasing ridership.
Baltimore Bicycling Club- Partners with area organizations to promote advocacy and ridership

Local Baltimore Groups to Ride With:
Biking in Bmore- weekend, evening, and morning rides of many distances and paces
Baltimore Area Triathlon Club- weekend, evening, and morning rides of many distances and paces- newbies to experienced riders. Road bike with clips recommended.
Crank Mavens-women only rides Monday nights, ~10 miles
Twenty20- Wednesday evening rides for experienced riders- road bikes and clips; women’s ride 2nd Sunday of every month, all paces welcomed
Race Pace- Beginner rides Sunday mornings out of Columbia; advanced rides Tuesday evenings at CCBC
Baltimore Bicycling Club- several rides per week of varying distances and speeds
Baltimore Bike Party- last Friday night of every month in costume!

Photo credit: Women on Bikes

Photo credit: Women on Bikes

Reports:
Women on a Roll, The League of American Bicyclists, August 6, 2013

Podcasts:
The Uphill Climb of Women’s Pro Cycling, Stuff Mom Never Told You, August 28, 2013
How to Get More Women Riding Bikes, The Bike Show Podcast from Resonance FM, March 12, 2012
Women: Expanding our Presence in the Bike World, Chicks on Bikes Radio, December 20, 2012.
How did Women Pedal Their Way to Emancipation? Stuff Mom Never Told You, May 11, 2011.

Infographics:
10 Myths About Women & Cycling, The League of American Bicyclists
 Women Mean Business: Will the Bike Industry Benefit? Women Bike
Overcoming Bike Concerns, Women Bike
10 Myths About Women & Cycling, The League of American Bicyclists
 Women Mean Business: Will the Bike Industry Benefit? Women Bike

Row Home Lit- First Edition

row home lit

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Row Home Lit, a literary publication for Baltimoreans at heart, just published their first edition. Beautiful poetry! Check out the electronic version here: http://issuu.com/rowhomelit/docs/row_home_lit_vol1?e=10683710%2F7004005 You can also visit them on facebook or tumblr.

Midnight Conversations by the Lake

Photo: Sarah Bessey, Pinterest

Photo: Sarah Bessey, Pinterest

A young woman sits down on a log by the lake at sunset. All quiets down like a halcyon decrescendo. Birds fly into their nests. The colors in the sky fade to those pinky-purpley colors that you have a mere ten minutes to catch before they’re gone. And now the sun’s final curvature has sunk beneath the edge of the horizon. It’s been a long year full of hard challenges and changes. But she is all alone out here and takes advantage of this one-on-one time with the evening stars. She looks up to the Heavens and whispers out loud in a trembling voice, “Are you there?” Silence. Crickets- literally crickets. “What did you expect, you fool?” She tells herself angrily, crestfallen hands covering a face warm with tears. “What do you even want from me, anyway!?” She implores the night sky, burnt out, unsure if she even has the energy to give whatever the universe would request should the universe answer back. She shakes her clenched fists indignantly at the darkness until she notices the soft, glowing moon. An urge from inside causes her to want to release her hands, open her palms, in tune with the warm summer breeze blowing between her fingers. A soft, warm, steady presence enters in.

“It’s me,” the presence whispers. “The same me who’s been here all along. All this time I’ve been begging you to lift your gaze my way, but instead you’ve buried it in your job, you’ve buried it in your calendar, in ticking clocks and reminders. In to-do lists, in fears, in worries, and in a fog that I’ve been trying to get you out of. And so that’s why we’re here. Here out in the open. Where the moon and stars are your only light; where soft breezes blow against tall grasses. I’ve been trying to get your attention and it seems as though this would be the only way.”

“And so you want to know what I want from you, my love? I’ll tell you what I want.

I want for you to start by telling me that you’ll look up at the stars once in a while when you get caught up in your worries and fears about the future. Then tell me how you can possibly feel trapped when the sky is so open, so free?

Tell me you will let yourself fall in love without fear or hesitation.

Tell me you’ll do all the things you’d want to do if you didn’t feel afraid.

Tell me you’ll stop saying how much you hate when others see you cry, sometimes. Because it can unconsciously give others the permission they never needed to feel the most visceral of life’s emotions.

Tell me you’ll be the one to tell all your friends and family what you love about them and thank them for what they’ve taught you- and that you won’t wait for them to do so first. Because some people aren’t used to expressing their truest feelings and your honesty can help them open up the parts of their souls that always wanted to come through into the atmosphere, no longer bound in prison’s cobwebs.

Tell me when you mess up in public or stumble over words that you won’t beat yourself up and remember that in the process, you alleviate others’ fears of messing up publicly because they’ll see it wasn’t so bad and recognize that none of us are perfect.

Tell me that you will believe in the power of doing these things once the sun’s come up, that you’ll believe this conversation actually happened. That you won’t step into tomorrow the same way you did all those hard exhausting days before.

That’s all I want for right now. I know we’ll be back to this place one day soon, my love. Find each other at the crossroads of depleted resolve just before it meets with the intersection of grace and beauty. Or perhaps we’ll find each other out here by the lake in the daytime, at sunrise. You’ll see how all of this mess, all of the hard turns, all of the question marks had to happen. You’ll see how strong you became, how open your heart has swelled, and feel proud of your journey- that you lived the question marks in order to find their sweet exclamations; that they really did create a path, not just a cornered maze with no way out. And when we meet again by the water, you can tell me how well you think you did. And I will take you by both your hands, look you in the eye and say I love you. Because no matter how knotty and twisted the arrival, surely goodness and mercy will follow…

Photo: Sarah Bessey, Pinterest

Photo: Sarah Bessey, Pinterest

Faith, Hope, and Bikes: Turning Cyclist Attacks into Community Dance Parties

In light of the Passover and Easter holidays upon us, I’ve been pondering Judeo-Christianity a lot this week. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ words about peace and reconciliation, things he talked a whole lot about, while he was silent or had little to say on the heated issues that so often people associate with Church or religion. He said things like “Blessed are the peace makers” and raised the bar on love by saying, “What good is it if you love only those who love you? Instead, love your enemies. Do good to those who hurt you.” He talked about creating Heaven on Earth, not just trudging through this life in order to reach some celestial afterlife. He believed we could experience some of that good stuff right here, right now.

And everywhere I’ve looked this week, I’ve encountered these sweet drops of Heaven that I think Jesus was trying to tell us was possible to experience on this side of the planet in our human bodies. On Sunday, I encountered it through Free Hugs at the Farmer’s Market. The next night, I experienced it when someone I never met before not only helped me find my friend’s dog that I lost (I know. Some friend, right?), but gave me a hug afterwards and offered to make me tea, willingly going out of his way at 11 PM on a weeknight for a dog-watcher he didn’t even know. But I think the example that speaks the most to me of all this love and peace and doing-good-in-the-face-of-bad stuff is what’s going on in the Baltimore bike community right now.

Last Saturday evening, a cyclist was attacked by a group of youth while riding home along Guilford Avenue. This cyclist bikes with a video camera attached to his helmet everytime he rides in light of a friend who was a victim of a hit and run. Since then, he bought a video camera and regularly records his commutes, unaware, I would imagine, of just how handy this would come this past Saturday when a group of young kids attacked him, punched him, and tried to steal his bike. He caught this 1:20 clip of the event before his camera shut off after the camera battery disconnected. It’s hard to watch, and even more personal knowing it occurred on an intersection used by so many bike commuters, my friends and I included. Attacks have occurred previously in this area, though at random.

The cycling community is one in which finding a friend, an ally, someone to connect with is never hard to find. In fact, most of the time when I bike throughout the city, I regularly make some form of human acknowledgement with other cyclists I see. A head nod, a wave, a hello, a “Hey, isn’t this a great day for a ride?” while we’re stuck at a red a light. Oh, and my favorite, the guy who gave me a peace sign as he rode by on a fixie.

So news travels fast in our little-but-ever-growing cycling community and it wasn’t long before we were dialoguing with each other in person and on social media about the event. I was amazed at the discourse because it seems as though all of the advocates get the fact that if kids just had more community inclusion and opportunities for recreation and play, they wouldn’t be out here committing crimes like this. Crime not being the problem, but the output of what happens when opportunity and meaningful activity cease to exist in an area. So instead of creating an us-vs them blaming mentality, activists decided to booth volunteers in the area in which the attacks occurred to “Bake some cookies and sell them! Make balloon animals for kids! Have a dance party! Whatever – the point is to be out on the street, watching for potential trouble, and nipping it in the bud before it happens!” (source: BikeMore google group). It’s ok to get angry about crime, in fact, humans harming other humans should arouse that emotion inside of us as a protective instinct to look out for one another. But what’s more beautiful to me- and to the other activists I know, is to turn something tragic into a reason to bring the whole city together to dance in neighborly love. That’s beauty. That’s Baltimore. That’s why I now almost come to expect activists to show up when injustice happens because everywhere I go around this city, I meet people whose hearts and voices refuse to be quelled in the midst of violence or oppression.

I think that’s what the Prophet Isaiah meant when he said, “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, and they will study war no more” (Isaiah 2:4). Except instead of swords, we have present day street violence. And instead of plowshares, we have creativity. Creativity to create bake sales, balloon animals, dance parties, hula hoop contests, and community interaction in place of violence.

Earlier this evening, I stopped by one of these volunteer booths for a Cyclist and Pedestrian Appreciation event that members of  the Greenmount West community organized. Community members waved to cyclists and passer-bys and invited them over for snacks and conversation. Said one of the women I spoke with at the event, “We don’t like our community being known for violence. This is a chance to change that.”
This is what I love about the biking community.
This is what I love about Baltimore.
This is why I doubly love the Baltimore biking community.

Members of the Greemount West community with cyclists and advocates. Photo: MO 2014

Members of the Greemount West community with cyclists and advocates. Photo: MO 2014


While the media shouts of violence and drugs, we are out here, out here in these open spaces linking arms and bike locks singing of something else possible.

While the cynics are out there saying “the city would be great if it weren’t for these hoodlums” (unfortunately, those are actual words I read on Facebook about this particular incident), we are out there finding these kids so that we can introduce them to you by name and not by label. We will learn their stories and they will learn ours and together we’ll ride our bikes at Bike Party or maybe down the street to the nearest bike collective. Or maybe I’ll teach them how to change a flat and they can show me how to pop a wheelie. Because we can all learn from each other, no matter our age or background.

The Cyclist and Pedestrian Appreciation event today indeed reminded me that it was Good Friday, that violence, much like Jesus’ death, doesn’t have the last word, and that faith, hope, and love are not just quotidian metaphors, rather, they are tangible exchanges we can choose to give every moment, every day.IMG_0662

My heart is so full.
And my stomach is too, thanks to the snacks the Greenmount West community brought today.

But we’re not done.
Because like BikeMore said, we can run with this.

So next Sunday afternoon April 27th, I’ll be out there with hula hoops and water balloons. Another guy I met today offered to bring his guitar. And another said that while he couldn’t play music, he could bring a bunch of his friends.
So come join us Sunday evening April 27 on Guilford and Lanvale, say 4:30.
We’ll stack our bikes up next to each other’s and say hello. We’ll learn each other’s names, and faces, stories, and dreams. And then we’ll dance. Because we love this city, we love each other, and are willing to raise hell and create heaven by speaking up out of the silence and stepping into communion. Because that’s there the love is. That’s where the life is. And that’s how community will continue to build, one neighbor, one cyclist, one activist at a time.

Let’s dance.