Monday, May 2, 2011

It's not like riding a bike

When I was in Vienna a few days ago, one of my closest friends brought me biking. It took me by surprise at first since I thought that it was such an unlikely, "out of nowhere" proposition. But as it always is, this idea turned out to be quite an exquisite one. 

The reason why I was taken aback is because I haven't ridden a bicycle in such a long time. As a matter of fact, I could not even remember when exactly was the last occasion. Like a lost memory that I desperately wanted to retrieve, I needed to unearth the past. Finally I was certain that my last bike tour must have been in my early teenage years -- and here comes the kicker -- when I was still living in Vienna. The irony of it all is that I used to love riding my bike around the famous Prater area or by the Donau. Some of the best days of my life, spent with either my childhood friends or my family, had a bicycle in the picture. Immediately, I could not help but wonder why I gave up this habit. For some unknown reason, I had not repeated this experience until that beautiful Sunday afternoon.

"It is like riding a bike", the universal saying, honestly took its literal meaning that day.  In the beginning, I was in such a panic not only because of my probable rustiness, but I was convinced that someone like me will be the kind that completely forgets how to bike. And in all fairness, it was terribly difficult and so unnatural to be on one again. Common knowledge is that riding a bike is "a said of skill that once learned, is never forgotten." But I truly had the impression that I was back to square one, and like a child, I needed to learn everything (again). I kept losing my balance, I stumbled and almost fell off at numerous times and I was a little saddened that I could not let go of the handle bars like I used to do. Luckily enough, after a while, I managed to stay on the bicycle for a bit; but definitely not long enough to say that I was an expert again. All in all, learning how to ride a bike again was embarrassing, but at the same time, a wonderful experience.

This spontaneous adventure suddenly got me thinking about the skills we learn along the way -- and which we are supposed to never forget, just like riding a bike. Some are basic skills, easy to learn and easy to remember, while many others require years of practice. We  acquire them with the help of different types of people: whether it is what our parents bring us by -- such as table manners and social skills, or the aptitudes we are taught in school or at work. Of course, a number of lessons come from experts or friends. Finally, we must not neglect the skills we learned on our own -- based entirely on our principles or personal experiences alone. Specific skills and lessons are fundamental, not so that we can use them in everyday life but, like riding a bike, when the occasion comes, we should roughly know how it works in spite the fact that we have been out of practice in a long, long time.

Then again, although we are well-equipped with certain life lessons and skills -- which we are asked to never forget, like riding a bike -- it is more than likely that these skills  be totally forgotten or ignored on countless occasions. Due to a number of "unknown" reasons, we sometimes find ourselves in tricky situations that may seem particularly familiar, yet harassed with the tormented feeling that we haven't learned anything from the past at all. We are back to square one. We have no idea how to (re)act. We need to learn the same lesson all over again. Some just regard it as yet another experience, many are infuriated that history keeps on repeating itself and others will be less than eager to ride a bike ever again. 

Life is sometimes a song on repeat -- whether we've had a similar experience years ago or it happened just yesterday, learning a lesson the hard way will always feel like a first.  Indeed, dealing with hardships and disappointment is never like riding a bike, it's not a "said of skill that once learned, is never forgotten." Learning life lessons or skills is strenuous, learning them all over again is nearly unbearable. And so it becomes perfectly understandable that we stop trying. But, as it always is, this is  exactly what life is all about: a wonderful journey from which we are supposed to learn. The thing is, we should not expect any less because that is what pushes us to grow as individuals. We do lose our balance once in a while. We stumble and fall at numerous times. And the times we are supposed to have acquired the skill already, we just need to cut ourselves some slack and simply start from scratch again. On the bright side, once again has its advantages because we know that one day, we will be able to let go of the handle bars and be free like the wind again -- because we have learned how to excel in that already. Ultimately, "life is like riding a bicycle. To keep our balance we must keep on moving." - Albert Einstein.