• Leann Shamash

Cycling

#cycling #torahandcycling #wordshavewings #whatbringsusjoy #satisfaction #biking #recovery #resilience


I was privileged to meet Rabbi Ahuva a few years ago at a Havura gathering at Camp Ramah in Palmer. Although we only met for those few days, we have kept in touch for the past few years on Facebook, a great way to communicate! Rabbi Ahuva's posts are inspiring. Recently she has been posting about running, but she has many things that bring her satisfaction and joy.

This post, which is longer than the others on this blog, is well worth the read. It is truly a journey and resonates with resilience. Thank you, Rabbi Ahuva, for sharing these words here.

Rabbi Ahuva's biography is at the end of this post.



NUGGET:


I love cycling, everything from riding fast in a paceline, to taking a long slow spin in the farm country, to fully loaded touring trips, to quiet rides on gravel roads winding through the trees, to climbing seemingly endless mountain passes, to doing the Costco shopping with saddlebags and a bike trailer.


I love the machine, I love my body working hard with strong legs and lungs, I love feeling my body meet the demands of the terrain. I love how the varied road surfaces vibrate through my bones. I love the smell that rises from the pine trees and cedars when the sun bakes down on them.


I love the chance to be alone and blow off steam, to giggle at my own jokes. I love the camaraderie of the group riding and eating together, teasing each other, and helping each other. I love to watch the wildflowers change, each with its short season, to see deer and eagles, and the occasional coyote.


There are places I still see in my mind before I go to sleep some nights, decades later, like the farmland southwest of Olympia, Washington, where sheep stand in small white clusters in a wide green valley that rolls out to meet the distant Black Hills.

“Crashing Sermon”

By Rabbi Ahuvah (Amy) Loewenthal


On one of my favorite Torah portions from the Book of Genesis is Vayishlach, which includes the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel.


Genesis 32:25-29 says that Jacob was left alone. And a man/angel/something wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he had not prevailed against Jacob, he wrenched Jacob’s hip at its socket as he wrestled with him. Then he said “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But Jacob answered “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Said the other “What is your name?” He replied “Jacob.” Said the other: “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but it shall be Israel, (the wrestler of E-yl) For you have striven with beings divine and human and have prevailed.”


Jacob is forever changed by that experience – he is physically transformed – his leg is wrenched; he is spiritually transformed by the encounter – he gains some wisdom which helps him grow as a person.


I didn’t have an encounter with an angel, but I did have an encounter with some asphalt which left me physically changed and a little wiser.


And so, I offer you reflections on my experience:

Five Things I Learned by Crashing My Bicycle Really Hard


Subtitled: I Would Have Rather Learned These Things an Easier Way


Before attending rabbinical school, I was an avid bicyclist. I lived in the Pacific Northwest, Washington State, in Olympia, the capital. Every year, I would pick a new bicycling challenge, something more difficult than I’d done before, something that might be just slightly beyond my capacity. My first major milestone was a 100-mile ride, called a century. The following year I did the very hilly 126-mile Two County Double Metric Century. The next year, it was the ride up Mount St. Helens, called the Tour de Blast. The following year, my goal was to ride the STP, the 200-mile Seattle to Portland ride, in one day. This organized ride is a Northwest classic, and it attracts 8,000 riders who ride the route in either one or two days.


I spent all spring and summer training and working out the logistics for this ride. And at 4:30 am, I met my riding buddies at the start line at the University of Washington. Shortly before 5:00 am, they started us off and 2,000 one-day riders surged out of the parking lot onto the roads of Seattle. I was immediately uncomfortable with the thickness of the tight pack – we were riding six across, filling the lane from curb to yellow center line. For the most part, the riders were not observing conventional group riding etiquette, which dictates that you point out potholes and other obstacles and signal and shout if you slow down suddenly. I was on high alert, thinking “this is an accident waiting to happen.”


About 80 minutes into the ride, three cyclists abruptly crashed in front of me, completely blocking the road. There was no way around them or through them, so I realized that I was about to crash too.


Five Things I Learned: Number One:

“Even when you fall, you fall into G-d’s lap.”


This beautiful Hassidic saying means that we are always cared for in some way by G-d’s presence. When I am able to feel G-d’s presence, I feel that I have a safety net. The part of me that is always vigilant can actually relax a little. In Islam, they speak of submission or surrender to the Holy One. In drug and alcohol twelve-step recovery programs, they say, “Let go and let

G-d…” and they speak of “turning it over” -- giving control to a Higher Power.


And indeed I found myself, very early on that July 17th morning, submitting, letting go, as I saw that the crash was inevitable. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and dove down to a quiet place. I came to rest on my side, still clipped into my pedals. The street felt cool on my skin. I rested there in G-d’s lap. And I had a sense that if I could just sleep there awhile, I would wake up intact. I had a rare feeling of being totally supported, loved, and protected. Now, those of you with medical training are thinking “concussion,” and you’re probably right. But I learned what it means to rest in G-d’s lap.


Learning Number Two:

“Man plans and G-d laughs.”


As I told you, I spent all spring and summer preparing for this ride. There were lots of details to work out for lodging, transportation, and gear. Where to spend the night for a 5:00 am ride start in a city 60 miles away, how to get home from the finish line 140 miles from home. How to have enough clothing options for the unpredictable weather without carrying too much baggage.


And there was lots of training to do. I marked the date of the STP on my calendar, and working backwards, wrote in mileage goals, beginning in March, which would allow me to gradually build up to the 200-mile event. My longest ride of 152 miles left me with confidence that I could complete the whole 200. I love this process – setting the long-term goal, figuring out how to get there, doing the steps, one by one, and then like magic, one day I can do something I could never do before. I get an immense feeling of satisfaction. In real life it’s hard to have this kind of control, but in my bike life, I’d always enjoyed making things happen this way.


My plans worked flawlessly. I was prepared in every way. But it turned out that bike life WAS actually part of real life, where stuff happens. Around mile 21, I was forced to let go of the illusion that I was in control, and so I closed my eyes.


Later, some bike friends said strange things to me, like, “You could have bunny-hopped over them,” or “You should go to a grassy field and practice falling, so you can learn how to fall better.” At first, I was taken aback by their suggestions, which seemed to imply that there was something I could have done to avoid the crash. After some time, I realized they were saying, “We desperately need to believe that faced with the same situation, we would have been able to control it; we need to believe that life is controllable.”


Our local bike frame builder, Bill Stevenson, a former racer, when asked, “How can one avoid falling?” replied, “Pick a different sport.” There is much I can control, there is much I can’t.


Learning Number Three:

People Care and They Will Help


Rabbi Rami Shapiro, in the poem “Unending Love,” writes: “We are supported by hands that uplift us even in the midst of a fall.” Strangers flocked around me, they kept the other cyclists from riding over me, they assessed me, lifted me off the road and into an ambulance. Strangers took care of my bike until I could reclaim it; the partner of an acquaintance gathered my luggage, which had been sent to the finish line in Portland. The medics joked around with me and set me at ease. A friend picked me up from the ER an hour from home, collected my bicycle, took me to fill my Vicodin prescription, and agreed to return the next day with her bicycle, to ride in my stead, solving the problem of how to get my car home from Portland.


“Ours are the hands, the eyes, the smiles…,” Rabbi Shapiro continues, “We are loved by an unending love.” We have the capacity to nurture each other. We bless each other with our caring. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the small acts or words we offer each other can really make a difference. But they are truly healing balm.


Is there an external G-d who plants within us the ability to care for one another? Or is human compassion itself what G-d is? Either way, we find holiness arises between us and among us as we dwell in community together.


Learning Number Four:

Healing is a miracle.


My front wheel was bent beyond repair. That front tire was slashed. My helmet was cracked. I had to replace those damaged things. My shoulder, on the other hand, more or less repaired itself. I had a separation of the A-C joint, which means the ligament that snugs my collarbone up to my shoulder bone overstretched and failed. Most movements were extremely painful at first, and although I was in a sling, even a small shrug was electrifying. I couldn’t raise my right arm away from my side. I couldn’t open jars or tie my shoes. I sat on the couch and wondered if I would ever bike again.


After two weeks, the joint was a little hardier and there was less of a hair-trigger pain response. There were fewer and fewer electrifying moves. I began physical therapy. Each week they gave me harder exercises, which at first I could do only very gingerly, but gradually found comfortable within one or two days. In wall-walking, I would creep my fingers up the wall as high as I could. I encouraged myself by marking the height of my latest creep. Likewise, I was assigned to bench-press a stick and then bring it backwards towards the bed. I finished the physical therapy and was advised to lift weights to keep my shoulder joint together. Strong muscles make a good substitute for the failed ligament. Sometimes my shoulder aches, especially before it rains, but it’s almost as good as new.


I contemplate the healing that happened in muscle and tendon and try to imagine what it looked like on a cellular level. If I was a starfish, I could have regenerated a whole new limb -- but I’m not complaining! The anatomy and physiology of the human body are incredible, miraculous. And as we look outward from our bodies, we find a complex web of relationships where one uses what another discards, an enormous system which fits intricately together, all whirling around on a blue planet. From the time we are born, we experience what Einstein calls “a sort of intoxicated joy and amazement at the beauty and grandeur of this world.” Studying science is what led me to spirituality. Feeling my own healing fills me with amazement and gratitude.

Learning Number Five:


Kol haOlam Kulo Gesher Tzar M’od

All the world is a very a narrow bridge

V’ha-Ikar Lo L’fachayd K’lal

The main thing is to not be afraid.


As the pain receded, I was anxious to get some exercise, and I was worried about how long it might take to return to cycling. I started riding on a stationary bike and two months after the crash, my physical therapist cleared me to begin riding on “flat smooth surfaces”. I was almost in tears from the pleasure of that first uncomfortable ride. And over time, I was able to get back on my road bike, and eventually began riding in groups again.


Friends asked, “Weren’t you nervous about getting back on the bike?” I didn’t doubt my own abilities, because after all, the crash wasn’t related to my judgment or my bike-handling. I was a little apprehensive about riding with some of our less predictable pals, and so I avoided riding close to them. I’ve always been a cautious rider, and I’m sure I will continue to be one. We assume a chair will hold our weight, but it’s always possible that a chair will give way. But to constantly worry and test each chair, is to compromise our enjoyment of life.


I love cycling, everything from riding fast in a paceline, to taking a long slow spin in the farm country, to fully loaded touring trips, to quiet rides on gravel roads winding through the trees, to climbing seemingly endless mountain passes, to doing the Costco shopping with saddlebags and a bike trailer.


I love the machine, I love my body working hard with strong legs and lungs, I love feeling my body meet the demands of the terrain. I love how the varied road surfaces vibrate through my bones. I love the smell that rises from the pine trees and cedars when the sun bakes down on them.


I love the chance to be alone and blow off steam, to giggle at my own jokes. I love the camaraderie of the group riding and eating together, teasing each other, and helping each other. I love to watch the wildflowers change, each with its short season, to see deer and eagles, and the occasional coyote.


There are places I still see in my mind before I go to sleep some nights, decades later, like the farmland southwest of Olympia, Washington, where sheep stand in small white clusters in a wide green valley that rolls out to meet the distant Black Hills.


It is a difficult thing to be a human being. We have many responsibilities, yet there are times we must relinquish control. We are faced with trying, painful circumstances and all we can do is what we can. People open their hearts to us, their love and good wishes surround us. Can we open to them? Every day is filled with ambiguity, with choices, with risks to take or risks to avoid.


Like Jacob, we wrestle with things of all shapes and sizes, and sometimes we limp away from these encounters.

We heal, we heal slowly, though some parts of us will never be the same, still we heal and we adapt and we continue to thrive. Life is difficult, but life is an incredible blessing, life is an unbelievable gift given to us.


Baruch Atah Adoshem, M’kor Chayim

Blessed are You, Source of Life.


Blessed are You, You who come to us at many different times – sometimes we are aware of You, and mostly we are not.


Blessed are You, who come to us in different forms – You can be hard to recognize – maybe when we think it’s You that we’re wrestling with, it isn’t You after all?

Perhaps, all along, we have been wrestling with ourselves – while You, You have been standing on the sideline, cheering for the underdog.

Rabbi Ahuvah Loewenthal, a congregational rabbi, was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2012. She lives with her wife, Dale Rosenberg, in Worcester, MA where she serves as Hillel Chaplain to Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Making the most of the current Zoom reality, she has also been teaching, leading services, and singing all over the US and Canada. She chairs the Ethics Committee of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, is on the Core Planning Team of the National Havurah Committee’s Summer Institute, and enjoys Hebrew, discovering new Jewish music, biking, running, and word games.










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