In the last year or so I have made use of one particular social platform in a low key way. I use it to surround myself with bicyclists. They're like a warm rug you can pull around yourself. I don't contribute a lot, I just like to see the photos they put up - generally stuff like "me, on my bicycle" "my bicycle" and "me commuting on my bicycle." I have a strong bias towards bicycle commuters. I ride a road bike and I like being fast but for me, it's a commuting thing first and a love of bicycling thing second and everything else is mostly not there at all. The cyclecross racers, and the roadie racers post pictures of their "suffer face." It is a picture of them frowning mightily as they struggle bravely forward. I get it, I used to have something similar when ran road races and I was trying so hard to finish fast. But commuting is different, I may work hard up hill or be fast but I don't suffer, or at least I don't suffer in that physical way.
I suffer in other ways.
Louis CK ran this great piece about not giving his kids cell phones because he thought it disconnected them from reality. He goes on to talk about his experience being in his car and hearing a song and feeling terribly lonely and afraid and he wants to text everyone he knows but instead he feels the grief and cries and then feels better. He's very funny and in my opinion spot on so if you have not seen the bit check it out.
In the morning I am very busy, I have to work with my husband to get the girls up. I read to them. The Contraption Captain makes breakfast and I pack lunches. Hair is braided and the day is discussed and I tidy up clutter and start laundry and clean the cat box. At work I go to meetings, fix broken hardware, find problems, write documentation and...other stuff. My mind is occupied at all times and when it is not occupied it wants something mindless to do because mindless-ness pushes back things I'd rather not think about. Like my friend E.
I've known E for nearly twenty years, and we've shared many Thanksgivings. She took care of my oldest when I was delivering my youngest and my oldest had never been away from home for the night but she had a fantastic time. E and her husband D stayed friends with me when I split from my partner. More importantly they stayed close to my kids who loved them. About this time last year I got email that E had a brain tumor. I Googled for it right away of course and it didn't take a rocket scientist to see that basically no one survived this kind of tumor at that stage in the game. I hoped for different but I did not get different, and as I write this she is dying at her home surrounded by her husband and daughters and many friends.
I don't think about E when I am clearing up the dinner plates or when I am paying the bills I push the thoughts away of how I feel about her being afraid, of how frightened I am by the idea that her brain is swelling and her head hurts her. I push the thoughts away up until I am riding my bicycle along some quiet stretch and then the thoughts come to me that E is dying, that I am far away, that there is nothing i can fix and little comfort I can provide. The sorrow I feel is tempered by the steady up and down of my feet as I pedal and pedal and pedal. It is as if my body assures me that something always goes on, even when something else is stopping. I am alone as bicyclists are alone, not really seen by the world around them and the sorrow I feel about E touches the deeper sorrow of knowing that everyone I know will one day die, that my children are not immortal, that there is a great deal of pain in the world. The corners of my mouth pull down and it probably looks pretty comical on a middle-aged lady biking as fast as she can, her eyes welling up. My suffer face.
After awhile I start to feel better. Nothing has changed but somehow you feel better able to accept what is happening, the things you cannot control, the sadness that exists, the wrongs you have done. I keep pedaling and my mind is mostly emptied out and I watch for the cars at intersections and I am quiet.