If you want to learn about life, go fix a bike.
Melbourne, 16 August 2015
Today I went to a bike shed to get myself a bike. I googled it first to get an idea of what to expect at the shed. It strongly stated that it is NOT a bike shop but you can pick one of the recycled bikes to repair, and pay for it. The volunteers would teach you how to fix the bike but would not fix it for you. Sounded simple and doable.
It wasn’t. Every other second, I hated what I was doing, or even myself. I doubted whether I could make this junk into a functional means of transportation. I asked myself why I didn’t just go out and pay extra $50 for a fully functioning second-hand bike. Throughout the day, I had multiple internal emotional breakdowns; I just wanted to throw all the tools away, flop down on the ground and burst into tears, just like a baby who wants to wear her socks by herself, but can’t as skillfully as her mom does it for her. But I didn’t, because I am not a baby, nor a socially inept human being.
But through fixing up a bike, I learned some priceless life lessons. It was a strangely therapeutic activity. This is how it was like:
I am all by myself with this shitty, rusty bike with a broken break. I don’t know what to do, how to fix it or where to start. The volunteer guy comes by to check up on me, but not as often as I wish. There is no mommy or daddy nor a magic fairy who’d come and do the hard work for me. Instead, the volunteer guy comes, takes a look at my dysfunctional bike, and tells me what is wrong. Then he asks me to bring some tools — of which terms I am totally unfamiliar with- and tells me to start amending. I was completely lost.
Seeing me standing clueless with a set of wrong tools, the volunteers show me the right tool and demonstrate its usage and assume that I’d pick it up right away. I don’t. But they are too busy to babysit around me for too long. So with the tools they handed me, I just go on, screw the bolt in vain for five minutes until I somehow catch on. Midway, I feel like I’m doing it right but not too sure about it either. Thankfully, the volunteer guy comes by. “How’s it going?” I have to fight an urge to hand him the tools and ask him to finish it up for me. Instead, I smile. “All good, can you check whether I’m on the right track?” He tells me that I am doing not too bad but need to go find a nut that fits the bolt, in a blue toolbox full of similar looking nuts and bolts. I have no idea what he’s saying. But I keep digging in. Fingertips are covered in rustic dust and finger nails get nasty. It seems impossible to find the one that fits a bolt I have. But then again, the volunteer guy miraculously shows up as if he knows the right moment — just before I give up and leave- and hands me a nut. “Try this”.
Noticing the devastated looks in my eyes, he teaches me some knowhow and tricks to work it out. Sadly, I am still quite lost. Before I can ask another question, however, he’s gone to help another lost soul. Then I think, ‘What was he trying to tell me?’ I move around a nut and a bolt with a fixer and assume that the fixer should go all the way through the end of a bolt. Although I am not 100% sure yet, I still go ahead. After tightening the bolt and the nut half way, the guy comes and yells “good job!” I feel relieved, achieved, and accomplished. Yet, it’s still too early to rejoice. I’ve only got the basket off an old, donated bike that was given away for understandable reasons. I have breaks to fix, both front and rear, all the dust and spider webs to wipe off, and tires to change, again, both front and rear. Two and a half hours into getting my hands dirty under a scorching sun, I am not even close to getting a bike to ride back home. It has only just begun.
At the end of the day, I fixed my bike, rode it safely back home with a help of one of the volunteers whom I now call a friend. I had to rub off dirty, greasy hands under warm water (oh the little things that you hardly appreciate until moments like this) at least three times until the draining water turned clear. Although I was completely worn out by the end I was happy and satisfied with much knowledge and wisdom acquired, which weren’t confined to mechanisms of a bicycle and techniques of fixing it.
Fixing a bike was just like how life is. You are completely lost at the beginning, but you keep on going regardless. Even if you are unsure, you think, and learn as you do. Sometimes you fail, but you also succeed. You keep failing, achieving and learning. Life simply continues. It’s never perfect. At times, it breaks down entirely and seems helpless. But it is not the end of the world. There is always a way. And while no one is around to fix it ‘for’ you, there are plenty of people who’d come around to help and do it ‘with’ you. You just need to smile and ask.
It took me over five hours to fix a recycled bike into a fully functioning, decent looking bike. It is not the prettiest, nor the fanciest bike I’ve ever seen or would ever see. But I love it. I want my life to be that way: Simple, meaningful and full of stories.