They were kind enough to invite me to ride with them recently. The seasoned riders have trekked many miles together in the years I’ve been aware of them.
I usually ride alone.
It’s not that I don’t like being with people, but simply that the logistics are less complicated when I’m the only one who has to agree to the time and length of ride.
It would be just another ride for me, I thought, but one spent in a group of men who, like me, enjoyed the spinning of the crank and wind of freedom blowing on their faces.
I never expected to be transported back fifty years as I rode.
It was my own fault really. One kind member of the group, noticing my problem, rode beside me for a few moments and explained the theory I obviously didn’t grasp.
“You don’t ride much with groups, do you? If you’ll stay with the other riders, the ride will be a lot easier.”
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to understand his meaning. Riding in a group reduces the effect of the wind, making the ride much less taxing. One has only to watch a professional bicycle racing team to grasp the idea. Drafting, following each other closely, is only a part of the benefit.
I never have been good at that—staying with the group. I’ve got my own ideas of what works, what corners to turn, how fast to ride on the downhills, and how hard to pedal up the steep slopes. But, perhaps the kind fellow is right.
I tried to follow his advice—really, I did.
But, they went slower than I wanted on the downhill parts. Then they went faster than I was ready to try on the uphill sections.
And, besides that, my mind was already a thousand miles away and fifty years in the past.
I guess I’ve always done it—ridden at my own pace. Still, the fear that knotted my insides on that long-ago day should have taught me a lesson to remember for life.
There were usually at least five of us who rode together—sometimes more. Through neighborhoods and across fields, down into canals and over levees, we pedaled our nondescript bikes. Brothers, neighbors, schoolmates—it didn’t matter. Whoever wanted to ride went along.
I heard the voices calling and jerked back from my daydreaming.
The four young men standing at the corner toward which I was heading had suddenly become aware of my presence. It took only an instant for me to realize what was going on.
As I was riding ahead of the group of ragtag boys, I had turned the corner into La Paloma without knowing it. La Paloma was a barrio, or neighborhood, in my hometown famous for the gang that wandered its streets. It has gotten much worse since my childhood, but even then, we knew better than to meander down its avenues idly.
The young men were headed into the street, coming straight for me. I remembered passing someone at the corner behind as well, and glanced back. Sure enough, he had moved onto the pavement, blocking my quick escape that way.
I was terrified. No other word describes it.
I was also alone. I can only imagine the conversation of my comrades as they gathered around the corner, just outside the neighborhood.
Can you believe he went in there? What was the idiot thinking? I’m not going in! No way!
Fortunately for me, they didn’t take long to decide that somebody had to come in after the idiot. Just in time, all of them came riding around the corner, about the moment I was trying to decide which one of the guys in front of me I might be able to knock over if I rode at him full speed. I never found out.
As soon as the rest of the group came into view, the other boys moved back onto the verge of the parking area and simply watched us ride past.
We rode, nonchalantly and quietly, down the street, turning the corner and riding straight home. After fifty years, my heart still beats a little faster, remembering the fear, but also the relief.
To this day, I remember the peace that rode around the corner with those brothers and friends. We weren’t out of danger—not by a long shot—but the relief I felt was almost palpable.
One might think the lesson I learned on that day was of strength in numbers. I know the truth of that, but it’s not what I remember.
I remember peace. While still in danger, I felt peace, full and complete.
Odd, isn’t it? The name of the barrio and its gang, La Paloma, means The Dove. Thoughout time, the dove has been a powerful symbol of peace. And there, in frightening circumstances, with disaster just moments away, peace fell over this young boy.
In danger, peace lives, unafraid.
Peace is not the absence of danger, but it is the assurance of safety.
Perhaps I’m not the only one who feels the danger crouching outside my door today. I hear it in the words, see it in the eyes of both friends and acquaintances. Fear can stalk us as we see death take those we know and love. Terror is set to spring as the world around us grows more unfamiliar and threatening.
And yet, the Savior told us He was leaving us peace. It’s not the peace the world craves—the complete absence of danger and of conflict of any kind, but is a peace that supports in the middle of the storm. (John 14:27)
He was about to be tortured, tried in court, and put to death. And, He told His followers not to be troubled and afraid. Their world was about to crash down around their shoulders and they were to continue on with peace in their souls.
It doesn’t make sense. It never has from a human perspective.
We stood, overlooking the world below and heard the wind blow gently over the treetops. In quietness, God speaks eloquently to our spirits.
Creation reminds us that our Creator is as He has always been.
We walked the hillsides of a green valley in the morning, as raindrops began to fall. The sound of the water from heaven on the canopy of leaves and pine needles above soothed the hurts and fears in our souls.
Ah, sweet peace.
The solitude reminded me that peace has already been given us long ago. We have only to remember where our strength comes from and realization of our certain salvation is renewed.
The psalmist wrote of it in his own contemplation. I lift my eyes up to the hills and I realize where my strength comes from. It comes from God the Creator, who made the heavens and the earth. (Psalm 121:1-2)
Not only in the quiet, but in the hubbub, in the tormented days, and the fear-laden nights, peace can be ours.
Not only ours, peace can reign. In our very beings, the terror is silenced, the fear put to flight. Peace reigns. (Colossians 3:15)
When all about us, men whisper of danger and terror in the dark, we don’t disagree. They do exist. They do have power.
But, our safety is not in weapons, not in hoarded wealth, nor even in governments. The peace those bring isn’t peace at all. It never has been and never will be.
Peace comes only from the Giver of all good gifts.
Safety itself is ours.
Even when we ride ahead of the pack.
The Dove, on silver pinions
Winged her peaceful way.
(from The Pelican Island ~ James Montgomery ~ Scottish poet/hymnwriter ~ 1771-1854)
I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
(John 14:27 ~ NLT)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.