I like to ride my bicycle. I live in what the students call the Quad, an area on campus that Harvard once used to house women and minorities. Naturally, it is farther away from central campus than any other housing. The walk from there to the main Yard takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on how late you are or how long your legs are. It takes me 30 minutes because I am short and lazy.
And so I got a bike the first month after I got back to school. I wanted to get a hipster bike, but the one outside of the ATA store would have cost me nearly $500, so I quickly went inside, to the lower level, and asked the clerk for the one that was the least expensive. And there he showed me my prize: an olive green mountain bike with the words “DIAMOND BACK” printed in curly letters on the side. It was the smallest and considerably less expensive.
“I’ll take this one,” I said, and I rode the bike home wearing my fashionable pink glasses and red flowery sundress. From that day on I rode my bike everywhere.
There were many perks to having a bike. It was faster than walking, and it was more fun than driving. I could have both the privileges of riding a car and of being a pedestrian, and I could switch my role depending on where the traffic lay. I loved it when I found an empty road and I could just sit on my bike, and let the inertia take me to where I needed to be. All I needed to do was sit and enjoy the wind and feel good wearing my favorite dress.
There were also times when I nearly got run over by cars. I was going down Garden Street, towards the intersection with Mass. Ave., when the car in the neighboring lane started to change into my lane. I could not move any farther right because the side was already filled with parked cars, and I could not stop or else the cars behind me would hit me. I tried to scream, but what came out was small. I prepared myself to die when the car was a foot away from my side, and then it bounced back into its lane. I was going to be okay.
In a strange sense, this danger kept me alive. On Fridays, I would ride my bike in one direction until I got lost (which happens very easily). Sometimes it helped for me to choose one location and then make my way towards it. I rode to a nursing home in Arlington; to the Medical School; to a bubble tea place in Boston; through the small neighborhoods surrounding the Business School; all around the Charles.
No one knew me. All that existed was my bike and the drifting of my shadow on the road. I rode alongside with fear, and fear forced me to become fully aware of everything going on around me: of swaying patterns of traffic, of movements of my own body, of strange men staring at me through parked cars. I was using all of my capacities and wits to stay alive and make it back home, something that I had to do constantly when I travelled alone through South America and that I missed doing very much once I left. It was the adventure I craved, that somehow, in Cambridge, I could feel as alive as I did when I walked through Peru.
And yet, it’s not about the adventure. It’s not about being able to replace “walks of shame” with “rides of pride.” It’s not about feeling special when I furiously pedal down Mt. Auburn Street in a dress or racing (and beating) the shuttle back from the Quad. It’s the ride that I care about.
My favorite time to ride my bike is at two in the morning when I make my daily trip from Pfoho to Quincy. After finishing a day’s worth of work, I pack up my bags, close the door, and turn off the light. The moment I hop on, I know I am done for the day.
Riding away from my dorm, I see clumps of students walking towards the Quad—some are probably marching to their late-night love nest, others from a late meeting in Lamont. I pedal down Garden Street, and I am the only person who exists in the world. Cambridge becomes an entirely different city on a late Monday night. Not a single car drives by, and I smile knowing that I am the best friend I have at that moment. I am stirred by my sudden lack of thought, and it turns into a smile. Sometimes I sing, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I wear my leather gloves, sometimes I forget.
Silence does move, and it moves inside of me. The current of my mind adjusts to the topography of the landscape, and for once in the day, I am at peace. I ride past CVS and see two homeless men smoking, and I think of Mickey, whom I met at the homeless shelter a year ago, and wonder if he is still alive. I am surrounded by strangers, and yet I feel at home. I see a man walking alone on the street and wonder if he is sharing my serenity. Perhaps he knows what I’m up to. I don’t mind, because I know my secrets will be guarded in the stillness of the night. There is an unwritten code of silence, and all of us stragglers understand that.
This is why I ride my bike. I live for these moments of transition, these moments of change, for it is in being between two points that I am forced to live in the present. I avoid the shuttle at all costs, because I don’t want my moments of transition to be ruined by the constant talk and interjection of people in my head. Whenever I talk to anyone, I am letting them enter me momentarily. If I do not take time to realign myself, I will be cut to pieces. I find that I am constantly hurling myself into the world and scratching myself against life. Interactions with others may not necessarily bring us pain, but they do shift the self in strange ways. Over time, these shifts collect and multiply in effect until, before we realize it, we have become something entirely different. Where is that time to heal?
And so, for seven-and-a-half minutes every day, starting at around two in the morning, I take my bike out and start my meditation. I ride in this blissful solitude for seven-and-a-half precious minutes, observing the world through the eyes of an infant until I reach the gates of Quincy. Every night, I finish this journey knowing that something had just happened, something too beautiful and too subtle to be put into words.
I park my bike and I take off my gloves, if I am wearing them, and then I start moving forward again.