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6.12.2007

Get a Grip!

Today's UPI column (#64, by the way - when I get to 100 I am going to quit)

So There I was...

Sliding across the Bridge of the Gods.

Spanning the mighty Columbia River a short ride east of Portland, Oregon, this bridge connects the states of Oregon and Washington at the approximate site where Geologists and Native Americans agree there once was a stone land bridge that eventually fell into to the river.

Falling into the river was also a concern of mine that day. I had never motorcycled this route before, so the sign stating that the bridge had a metal grate deck was a surprise to me, and the sign was not visible until it was too late to make any other choice but to cross.

Here is the problem with motorcycles and metal grating. The bike has about four square inches of each tire that contact the road at any time. That is eight square inches of grip altogether. Metal grating reduces those eight inches to a few tiny strips of metal. It is not enough grip. All traction is lost. It is like riding on ice. If all other things are equal and the grating is limited, then inertia is your friend, and if you just hang on, relax and trust, the bike will continue forward without much deviation until you get solid pavement back. You do not dare steer, brake or accelerate.

All things were not equal on the bridge of the Gods that day. I was traveling north to south and the winds coming up the Columbia Gorge from the west were about 30 miles per hour steady, with gusts exceeding that by a good bit. Without traction the winds were steadily pushing me to the left, towards the oncoming traffic. I had just enough warning to enter the grated section at the far right edge of a bridge that is 35 feet wide – 17.5 feet for me, 17.5 feet for the other guys. At that point it was a Hail Mary situation. Would my speed get me across the grate before the wind pushed me into the path of a semi?

That was when I made the mistake of looking down, past my feet, through the grate, and 150 feet down to the water. My head started to swim and I snapped my eyes back up to the road. An oncoming Winnebago was laying on its horn. As my tire touched the centerline, the grate ended and I had enough traction to correct my course. I coasted down to the tollbooth at the foot of this deathtrap. I was shaking badly enough as I tried to fumble into the pockets of my leathers to find the fifty cents required, that the toll taker shook her head and waved me on. I had the feeling she had seen rattled bikers before.

Spiritual lives can also lose traction. We can loose our connection with the ground. We can get all slip slidey. Think about the places where the rubber meets the road in your life. They are not usually the most pleasant places. Friction is implied in traction. But those are the placed that keep you grounded that give you the option of relative control.

I find that if I surround myself only with people who agree with me, that I start to lose my moorings. I feel my connection to God in a very real way when I am around people who don’t share my experience of God. This is spiritual traction.

I need a regular connection with people honest enough to let me know when my spiritual slip is showing or I have spinach in my teeth. We have all seen the hard public lessons of those who surround themselves with sycophants. Honest friends supply traction.

I lose traction when I get disconnected from the real physical needs of the least among us. I have learned that I cannot fix all the problems that I see. But I can do something, every day, every week, every month, to address those problems. Real, fulfilling work increases traction.

All of these conditions describe places where the road falls below the minimum required grippiness. Sometimes the warning signs are there; sometimes we learn the hard way and mark our own mental maps for the danger.

We have to pay attention to the road because our culture has some prevailing winds: rabid individualism, materialism, affluenza, addiction to addictions. It does not matter how big my spiritual engine is, how strong my personal braking system is, if I am not grounded, the prevailing winds will push me out of my chosen lane, and that oncoming Winnebago will show up, horn blaring.

Comments:
Please don't stop at 100 - food for the soul (or whatever you call it) is hard to come by.
 
Does God want you to stop at 100? Your messages help us all "Get a Grip!"

I'm at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico with Intermountain Yearly Meeting. Beautiful - skies, cliffs, people. All is good.
Nancy McLauchlan
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
Hi,from Iowa. This is Jim. Kathleen and I visited Bear and Barbara last summer and worshipped with you. Please consider continuing past 100, if you think you would be faithful in doing so? I have enjoyed and been challenged by your columns I have viewed--dont do much Internet time, but I look for your stuff--and have forwarded some to my (F)friends here in our local meeting.
 
Hello Jim and Kathleen! Good to hear from you! I will tell our friends that you dropped in.

I will re-consider when the 100 point nears. I might even have to have a clearness process. The UPI gig gets me writing with the weekly deadline, but it takes time away from Freedom Friends and other pursuits.

I don't seem to run out of stories.
thanks for the kind words.
 
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