Cycling Stories

The Present Moment

July 16, 2020

The Present Moment

“Enjoy life now! This is not a rehearsal! There is no time for tomorrows or crying over yesterday’s spilled milk. There is only the now. You must live in the present.” 

The young boy unwrapped his present with care. It was as if he didn’t know what it contained, although the shape pretty much gave it away: a new racing bicycle, with drop-handlebars and thin racing tyres. 

“Aw! Thanks, Grandpa!” he said excitedly. 

“Thank your mother,’” the old man replied. “She wrapped it up. But,” he added while lifting the bicycle from his seat with two fingers, “it has an all-titanium frame, meaning it weighs almost nothing.” 

The boy immediately took his bicycle outside, cycled it down the road, and around and around the block. That evening at dinner, he said it was the best present he had ever received. 

“Enjoy it. You are young,” the old man said. “I remember the fun I had when I was your age. In fact, when I was a bit older than you, I went on a three-hundred-mile round trip ride by bicycle with friends. I recall venturing down small, un-adopted roads for access to remote locations, the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, and feeling like I was part of the landscape. I recall the satisfaction of being at one with my machine, covering a certain distance in a certain time, and getting up before dawn just to experience that part of the day.” 

“But,” he continued, “cycling isn’t just a fair-weather activity. I cycled to school, going from one island to the next on a little ferry that chugged against strong currents from the intake waters. Also, through ferocious gales so strong they could blow you over, forcing us to steer in a tangential direction. In other memories, I worked in a big city with pollution, angry drivers, and pot-holes. And, of course, there was cold rain, wind, and hills.  

“But it’s my memories of freedom that are most impressed upon my mind.” 

“Then, suddenly, like torn, ripped paper, with jagged, angry edges, cycling was no more! Like a candle in the wind. Extinguished. Phut!” 

Everyone looked at the old man as he paused. At last, he continued. 

“Did you know I was cycling well into my fifties before I had to give it up?” 

“Was it the phut, Grandpa?” 

“Yes. I slowly became ill, accompanied by deep sorrow, regret, and, above all, grief.” 

“Imagine, if you will, a young man – well, not so young – who enjoyed, above all other things, three activities: traveling, walking, and cycling. Now, what I ask you, do all of these things have in common?” 

“They all depend on being able to use your legs and feet,” the boy answered. 

“That’s right! Now, imagine a disabling illness that takes them all away. It even took away my balance. Pretty grim, huh?” 

“I’ll tell you this: it took some time to really get my head around the condition! My life had changed forever.” 

“In addition,” Grandpa continued, “this condition, more or less, took away my career. I was a professional person with plans for the future. Life was rich, not just in terms of money, but also in varied experiences, which did strange things to my confidence. Then, when the disability struck, well, I didn’t envision being able to lead that sort of lifestyle anymore.” 

The old man paused while he drank some water. 

“So, I asked myself, ‘What can I do?’ This illness stole my employability, and, with it, income. Gone were the days and nights of magic while cycling, sensing the sights and smells of the early morning, or relishing a summer’s evening. The smell of pastures. Camping under the trees and stars.” 

“I began to remember images of the things I lost: hoar-frost on my forearms, cycling over hills to far-flung hostels, and early-morning mist. Cycling to school or work, for leisure or fitness, occupied a huge place in my life.” 

He snapped his fingers. “Gone! Just like that.” 

“What was it like, Grandpa, when the doctor first diagnosed you?” the young boy asked. 

“Yeah … I entered a strange twilight zone between living the life I had, and a newly restricted one. It was passing from daylight to darkness. Artificial lights flickered and buzzed in the rooms of the shadowy environment into which I had just moved. 

“Then, sometime later, I finally resigned myself to my new existence: a life-changing event had occurred, leaving me to gather the pieces and build something new.”  

“I tried to stay positive: onset, in my case, hit fairly late in my life. And typically, the later this occurs, the slower the progression. But it is progressive, meaning it gets worse over time. The trouble, though, is that no one knows exactly how fast it will progress. It’s like sitting on a bomb, and you don’t know how long the fuse is!” 

“Now, every day brings the same stretching, strength training, and balance exercises, which I do with the hope that new research will miraculously uncover a cure one day. I’ve positioned myself at the water’s edge, waiting to see what the tide might wash up! I am waiting by the shore, trying to stay strong, and hoping that something might arrive.” 

“I wait in an eternal Limbo. Not knowing; unaware and unsure of what waits around the corner.” 

“Eventually, the day arrived when I had to sell my bicycle, which I remember quite well. After taking it out for the last ride, it felt like selling a friend. It was my companion to important feelings and a figurative and factual point in time that divided the past from the present.”

“Health can disappear just like that,” Grandpa said. “Enjoy life now! This is not a rehearsal! There is no time for tomorrows or crying over yesterday’s spilled milk. There is only the now. You must live in the present.”  

“Before my diagnosis, I always thought of tomorrow. But planning for the future is like planning for an event that might never come! But things change! Either externally, due to events completely outside of our control, or internally, where changes occur to our thought processes.” 

“As we age, the probability of change decreases exponentially, whether we like it or not. The future can also be changed by clinging onto past events in the past, even though we can do absolutely nothing about things that have already occurred.” 

“It is,” the old man continued, “a fact of life that the carpet on which we stand can be suddenly pulled away, revealing a reality that will never look or feel the same again. Mine certainly wasn’t! I had to live with that. Sure, If I had it all to do over again, I’d obviously make some changes. But I didn’t have time for regret.” 

“It comes down to a simple choice. Do you remember the film ‘The Shawshank Redemption,’ where the character Red, played by Morgan Freeman, says, ‘You can either get busy living or get busy dying’?” 

“It really is as simple as that.” 

“It’s a daily struggle, though. I don’t kid myself: I am travelling this path alone. Others might try to sympathise with me or the situation, but in the end, I am a solitary figure peering into life’s void.”  

“All I can do is accept my illness and my new life,” the old man said. “If not, I might slowly disappear down a whirlpool of struggle that will alienate myself from everyone around me. I would only become a hindrance to others.” 

“Nothing remains the same. Be happy with change, for impermanence is the fundamental law of existence. This is  

“The only certainty in life is that everything changes. But change is actually the reason why anything can happen in the first place. Therefore, be happy with change, for impermanence is the fundamental law of existence.” 

“Like cycling on a summer’s evening. Being part of an alternating landscape. Fixing a puncture. Changing a tyre. Recalibrating your derailleur. Riding down a long road with the only intention of reaching its end. Enjoying the journey.” 

“Enjoy your time spent cycling, son. Eat your greens. Keep your body strong. Look after the important things. Enjoy these things while you can. For me, they didn’t last long enough. All too soon, they belonged in the past.” 

“For, above all, cycling is a celebration of the present moment.” 

James A. FitzGibbon is an English teacher located in the UK. He previously spent more than 20 years in Oman, UAE, Qatar, and Turkey. He’s continued writing throughout this time, which has always been a constant in his life.
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