When we moved to Sacramento in the late 1980s Lena and I decided to purchase fairly simple mountain bikes. They were just becoming popular then and seemed stable and easy to ride. The bike trails and routes in Sacramento were practical, beautiful, and inviting—and we wanted to get a taste of traveling them. The bikes we bought were Specialized Hard Rocks—heavy bikes, no shocks, just simple frames, knobby tires, and gripshift gears. (I remember we bought them at River Rat Bikes—the shop is still there!) Mostly, these were recreational bikes, to be used whenever Lena and I would find an opportunity to take a bit of a pleasure ride in the midst of working our jobs and raising our children. Though we enjoyed the riding when we did it, I can’t remember that we were on our mountain bikes a lot.
Though it was rare, I would sometimes ride my bike to the church. The distance from our home to Cordova Presbyterian was a little over a mile. One day, I rode there for what I thought would be a quick trip, propped up my bike outside the church door, and went into my office. I didn’t bother to lock the bicycle. Soon, I heard some noise outside the door and looked to see my bicycle gone. I ran to the street to see what had happened and saw two people making off with my bike. One was riding the bicycle and the other was just running. With a passion I didn’t know I had in me, I yelled my best profanities at the thieves and ran like hell after them. As I sprinted down Coloma Road, another man joined me in the chase, wanting to help me out in my predicament. He was younger and stronger and I appreciated his help in tracking down the culprits. We were quite a sight!
Unsurprisingly, the man on my bike was able to ride down side streets and get far away from us very quickly. I and the man helping me were finally able to catch up to the thief’s accomplice. I’m actually not sure why he stopped—we didn’t look very powerful or imposing. Maybe we just wore him out, but he sat down and we all gathered together on a hillside. I told him how violated I felt and with a trembling voice expressed my outrage. I insisted he wait with me until we could track down his friend and my bike. Partly because we were two against one, partly because he knew there was little we could do—he didn’t object. It was an odd scene to be sitting with someone who had clearly wronged me and not know what to do next. I don’t think we called the police, but I know that in the end they were not involved. We tried to wait him out, but eventually all three of us gave up and went home. (As for quick communication with the law—these were the days before cell phones.)
I was despondent about the theft. I was surprised that I exerted so much energy in trying to catch the man who stole my bike. I was disappointed in my powerlessness. I was more than grateful that there was person who would risk helping me in the chase. For quite a few years after, I would see someone I thought was riding my bike (it was a fairly common bike and frame) and would revisit the anger of that day. Eventually, of course, I replaced my bike and life went on. Yet losing that bicycle gave me a small window into injustice. Into what it means when something is taken from me.
Spiritual Practice: Have You Ever Had Something Taken From You?
The world is not always kind to us. We are all the victims of large and small injustices. Many of us are privileged enough to not have our lives threatened or our survival taken away. But each us has has lived long enough to have something taken from us. Maybe it was some simple object. Perhaps it was something much more profound. Our innocence. Our boundaries. A physical attribute. Our health. Our reputation. Our safety. Our freedom. A year (thanks, COVID). Our humanity. For some, it is our very lives.
Injustice (in part) is when something of ours is taken without our consent. It hurts. It changes us. It affects our present and our future. It colors our perceptions of reality.
So here is the practice: call to mind a time when something was taken from you—large or small. Now think—how did that moment affect you? How did it change the trajectory of your life? Did it change your view of humanity? Did it open you up or close you down? Did you see any of yourself in the one who “took” something from you?
Finally, how does having something taken change your willingness to give? Is your life more of a closed fist or open hand? Do you tend to pull back or go forward? Can you forgive someone who takes from you? Do you even want to? What might all this say about the kind of person you are becoming? Sit with all this for a while. (Sit with this but know you are not alone.)