My travels in the world have brought me to the Catholic Worker house in Norfolk, Virginia, where I have joined a group of like-minded Christians seeking to do the works of charity and justice in our local community. Last month I moved the last of my belongings out of my apartment and officially changed my residence to the Sedako Sesaki Hospitality House of the Norfolk Catholic Worker at 1321 West 38th Street. For over fifteen years the Norfolk Catholic Worker has run a soup kitchen, feeding the hungry on the streets three times a week, and so it was that I was ladling grits and greeting Jesus, hungry and haggard, one cold morning on the soup line. The children of God came on foot, by bus and by car, and a few came by bicycle, clicking and clacking, squeaking and wobbling to a halt beside the ignored cemetary wall, the noisy bicycles drawing the attention of my cycling-attuned ear.
A quiet bicycle is a good bicycle. A noisy bicycle is a slow bicycle. A slow bicycle changes a bike ride from a meditation to a chore, sapping what energy is left at the end of a long day. As the line of hungry men and women petered out, my mind wandered from my idle ladle and began to spin around the hub of an idea- who could get these noisy bikes fixed? Who could do such a work of charity? Could it be me?
I knew how to clean a chain, adjust a shifter, tighten a cable and true a wheel. I had the basic tools necessary. The curb could be my repair shop, and I could work on bikes as people were eating their breakfast.
So the next week I showed up with a couple of toolboxes, a bag of bike parts and a determination to help my fellow children of God. I walked down the hungry line of people huddled against the cemetary wall and asked,
"How ya doin'? Is that yer bike there? Looks like it could use some new brake pads...
"Woah, that wheel's lookin' pretty wobbly! I can straighten it up for ya if ya want...
"Naah, it won't cost ya a thing. It's free...
"Nope, I don't work in a bike shop. I just do this because it needs to be done...
"Sure nuf, I'll have that flat changed before ya finish yer grits..."
At first I sat on the cold curb as I spun the wheels and eased out the wobbles, or leaned the bikes against the fire hydrant while cleaning and lubing chains, or squatted in front of brakes as I brought them back into alignment. Sometimes Donald or Joe or Al would hold the bike up while I spun the pedals around, and often a crowd would gather around me, watching me reach for the right wrench and commenting all the while,
"Now ya know, they've got those new, solid tires. Won't get a flat on those! That's what ya need!"
"Some guys don't know enough to stand up when they ride over a curb. Ruins their wheels everytime, I tell ya..."
"Don't know what yer s'posed ta do with all them gears. Three's enough for me!"
I swapped out flat tubes for new tubes, patched the holes and traded again for more streetworn tubes. One grateful guy gave me a kidney-shaped pillow to cushion my knees while kneeling on the street. Another guy gave me two and a half bikes, telling me, "If you can fix these up, maybe somebody else can ride them." Just the other day a new guy at "the wall" declared, "I've got a whole bucket of bike seats I can bring ya!" I welcome the bikes have begun to show up at the Catholic Worker as they present me with more opportunities to practice the craft of low-end bicycle repair. It is thus that the Kingdom of God is realized in our midst. Through simple acts of sharing we find that there really is enough for everyone. We realize that our lives can be much simpler when lived in the Spirit.
Dorothy Day, one of the founders of the Catholic Worker movement, urged us to see every person as Christ. When I look at the homeless on our streets, slowly walking and pedalling as the more affluent zip by in air-conditioned, four-wheel drive, tinted, moon-roofed, stretched and stereophonic comfort, I am drawn to a vision of Jesus and a dusty throng of followers trudging along the high roads of Galilee and Judea as the more affluent passed by on horseback and in chariots. Jesus didn't rush from Emmaus to Jerusalem in style and ease, but rather walked along with the common folk, sharing their sufferings and teaching along the way.
If Jesus were with us today in body as well as spirit, I think he would be travelling in solidarity with the poor, just as he did two thousand years ago. But I like to think that nowadays Jesus might have wheels- bicycle wheels. Today it would be from atop his bicycle seat after a long, hot ride over too many hills that Jesus would declare with a parched voice, "Peter, I can see your house from here!"
It is in the spirit of the Kingdom of God that I ask you to donate bicycles to our new Catholic Worker bike clinic. And bike locks, with keys, will be most helpful in securing the blessings of God. Bike lights, front and rear, would also be welcome to keep the police from stealing the bicycles of the poor on the grounds that unlit bicycles are a traffic hazard (never mind that the Norfolk bike cops are themselves exempted by city statute from using bicycle lights at night).
(The Bike Guy)
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