Bike Fail

“Find another way to keep fit,” said the podiatrist in uncharacteristically stern tones. Decades of walking had netted me two very unhappy feet. What to do? I needed time out in God’s nature and, never much good at sitting, had used the rhythm of my steps to focus my prayers.

I rummaged up warm memory from my youth: cycling home from the library with a basketful of books. Eureka! Calling in wifely and motherly chips 2016 Mother’s Day, I requested the gift of a bike. I loved her on sight: old-style frame, cream-colored paint, and stenciling that reminded me of ice cream parlors and The Music Man. I named her Cordelia.

Worry: would I remember how to balance after all these years? A surreptitious ride around the neighborhood allayed those fears: you really do never forget how to ride a bike! But an altogether different problem arose. The slopes that seemed gentle to my walking feet grew Everest-sized when I pedaled them. Breezes that mercifully cooled my walking skin buffeted my biking body with maniacal force. And, it turns out, you use different muscles bi-peding than you do bi-peddling. My quadriceps screamed, “What did we ever do to you?”

I finished the ride on willpower. I was clearly past it. Done for. Failure with a capital F.

But what of Cordelia? She was a gift of love and hope. I couldn’t give up on her. I painted my bike helmet like van Gogh’s Starry Night and, following the advice of the ages, got right back on the, um, bike.

Not great. Not disastrous.

Today I can ride longer before my legs turn into overcooked noodles. I can manage inclines with a bit more panache.  It’s not as easy as I’d like, but it’s worth the effort. Plus, I learned that failure, while harsh, has benefits. I learned

  1. Failure doesn’t kill us. Even though at the time our mortification might wish it did. In surviving failure, in a larger sense, we win.
  2. Failure defines our values. Sometimes we give something a go and failure tells us, in no uncertain terms, “Nope. Not for me.” Other times, when we face a challenge that’s hard, but somehow energizing (what I call God energy), failure spurs us on. We test unused muscles and set our determined chins.
  3. Failure fosters humor. We grow in self-acceptance when we can laugh at our humanness. Not in a derisive way, but in a way that says: “Yep. That’s me. Warts and all. Gotta love me.”
  4. Failure cultivates community. We all fail. Sharing that honestly helps us discover—and share—the refreshing truth that failure doesn’t define us.

Sure, it’s frustrating to re-tackle with determination (and Ben Gay) a skill I once mastered with nary a thought. But it’s frustration with benefits. I feel a kind of wondering joy as I wheel Cordelia out of the garage and slap on my helmet. There are adventures out there just waiting for me. I intend to pedal out and find them.


VW Justice

Small Justices

Trailing home from school our fifth grade year, my friend and I hit on an amusement: sticking out our tongues at passing cars. At each car’s approach, we prepared our mouths to do the unspeakable. At just the right time, we thrust forth our tongues and waggled them tauntingly. Euphoria tingled up my spine at our audacity. We’d taken on the social taboos and gotten away with it!   Until.

A VW bug drove past us: a small and unpretentious prey, not like bagging a Cadillac. Still, we gave it our all, pushing our tongues out into the autumn air. As the car passed, we doubled over with laughter. The VW made the block and drove past us again. The driver rolled down her window, poked out her head, and stuck out her tongue at us!

Quite a different sensation now tingled up my spine: Shock. Hurt. Anger. How could she? How mean of her to… Wait a minute.

Standing there, plaid satchel in hand, I experienced for the first time what it was to stand in another person’s shoes: what real‑world justice felt like. If I could find that woman today, I’d give her a big hug (if she’d let me get that close) and use my tongue to better purpose.

Front Brakes Shakedown

Small Justices

Our regular mechanic said my front brakes were down to 30%.

“How long can I drive on them?”

“Depends on how many miles. Most people can go a month, maybe more.”

“Take it to one of those places that specialize in brakes,” said my husband. “It’ll be less expensive.

Or so you’d think.

I pulled into the parking area early one morning and spied an eager male face through the glass door.

“I need my front brakes replaced.”

“Yes, ma’am. We’ll give you a diagnostic inspection. You can wait right there while we do it.”


Twenty minutes later, my cars hung in midair, hood up, stripped of all its tires. It looked so pitiful. I felt as if it were saying, “How could you subject me to such indignity? What did I ever do to you?” The eager man pointed out all that ailed my poor car. Interesting, since two weeks prior our mechanic reported the car to be in good health, except for the front brakes.

“I just want the front brakes replaced.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll just get you an estimate.”

More waiting.

The eager man summons me to a computer screen boasting a staggering array of jargon. “You’ll get A done and then Q and then we’ll M and finish up with Z.” He pointed to a number on the far side of $700—$763, if my memory serves.

I stared at the total, which far exceeded the amount we’d spent on the back brakes. “I’ll need to make a phone call.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I stepped outside and phoned my husband. “What!?!” was his response to the estimate. “No. Tell them to put it back together. We’ll go somewhere else.”
Back inside. “Just put the car back together. We’ll take it elsewhere.”

Raised eyebrows. A mouth opens and closes. Finally, “Now we can just do those pads, if you like.”

Ah. Now.

“No, thank you. I’m more comfortable taking it elsewhere.”

“Okay, ma’am.”

He exits to the garage. Tells the Faginesk character who’d earlier claimed my key: “Just put it back together. She don’t want it done.”

I imagined heads shaking sagely, maybe an eye roll or two. More waiting. Very uncomfortable waiting. At last Fagin presents me with my key and, smiling, tells me he tried to put my seat back where I’d had it (We do what we can for you diminutive females, his tone implied. I’m 5’7”.)

“Thank you,” I manage. As I head out the door, the eager man shouts, “You have a nice day now, ma’am.”

Later my husband says, predictably and accurately, “It’s because you’re a woman.”

I’d entered the brakes shop sporting two breasts (of average size and discretely covered) and was seen as a cash cow to be milked. I hate the injustice of it, of knowing that had my husband entered, tall of stature and deep of voice, he’d have received the service he requested. I hate being dependent his testosterone to maintain a safely drivable vehicle. I hate being eyed either appreciatively or speculatively. I hate feeling inadequate, foolish, and less than. I hate it because it’s unjust. Because mechanics should do their job for each client, not look for ways to fleece ones they perceive to be the hapless lambs of the flock.

So—four stars to our usual mechanic and four rotten tomatoes to Eager and Fagin. In the future do your job. Listen to your clients. Treat each person as you’d like to be treated by a professional in another field. If you arrive at the hospital needing an appendectomy, would you like the medical staff to sell you on a tummy tuck, upper and lower GI series, and a colon irrigation as well?

Didn’t think so.


In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same. ~Albert Einstein

2 More Deadlies!

7 Deadlies - Lust (small)                                                  7 Deadlies - Vanity (small) (transparent)



The 7 Deadly Sins have a long and serious theological history; I decided, with these “Deadly Designs,” to apply a dose of good humor to each menace. Why? Because nothing (including our own fearful faults) seems so bad once we can chuckle at it. Humor raises awareness, broadens perspectives, and disarms even the most fearsome baddies.

7 Deadlies

7 Deadlies - Envy (small)

7 Deadlies – Envy


The 7 Deadly Sins have a long and serious theological history; I decided, with these “Deadly Designs,” to apply a dose of good humor to each menace. Why? Because nothing (including our own fearful faults) seems so bad once we can chuckle at it. Humor raises awareness, broadens perspectives, and disarms even the most frightening baddies.