Training Wheels

It was essential to have a bicycle on the street on which I grew up. Every day after school, as soon as our homework was done, my sister and I would hop on our bikes and convene with the rest of the neighborhood kids. Our bikes became cars and motorcycles and horses, whatever our imaginations could think of. Skinned elbows and knees, pant legs stuck in the chain, and the most dramatic of all—four stitches after racing down my hilly driveway, taking a sharp turn at the bottom, and flying over my handlebars to land gracefully on my chin in the middle of the chalk classroom we had been playing in the afternoon before. My parents laid me on the counter and picked out the pebbles before taking me to the emergency room.

Another very clear memory of riding my bike (from before the stitches incident) is the day my dad took off my training wheels. I remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watched him use the screwdriver to remove the white plastic wheels that had kept me safe and stable throughout the years. I sat on my bike, now with half the wheels it used to have, and my dad kept his hands on my shoulders as I started pedaling. Next thing I knew, I didn’t feel his hands anymore… and I was still moving! I pedaled up and down the street, giddily intrigued by my newfound freedom.

Although I’ve lost touch with most of those childhood friends, I can recognize the importance they had in that season of my life. Other friends and, of course, my family, have been with me for more of my journey, and there are countless others who have touched my life in one way or another throughout the years. The communities of which I have been a part support and encourage me to reach my full potential, and without their influence, I would not be the same person. As English poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” We are wired to exist together, to belong with each other.

To have imagination is to be able to envision something that has not yet become. This sense of wonder is not just for kids riding bicycles; it is for all of us, wherever we find ourselves. It is a gift that many seem to lose once they cross an invisible threshold into “adulthood.” If we foster our ability to use our imagination, life becomes so much more interesting—we are able to create and have a greater sense of gratitude.

Inevitably, we fall down. We can get hurt in many different ways—physically, mentally, spiritually—and we can have the strength to get back up and try again. So many times I have fallen, either by my own doing or by something or someone else, and have suffered a broken ankle, a broken heart, and a bruised ego at different points along the way. I believe that these times of change and redirection are what ultimately keep us on the right path, as long as we can muster up the courage to get back on our bike and keep pedaling. And hopefully, when we find our balance, we are able to taste that giddy freedom of really living.

Written by Taylor Walsh, a current intern at the WYA North America office.