I leaned over the low stone wall along Broadway and raised my six-year-old daughter by her ankle back to the sidewalk. Her bicycle had ended its journey in the side of my neighbor’s BMW.
“Drat,” I muttered, hoisting up the stubborn child like a fish from deep water. “Carol,” I shouted, “stop screaming. You aren’t hurt.”
Trembling more with anger than fear, Carol shrieked, “Not hurt. Not hurt. That darn bike don’t work. I need one that works good.”
It was hard not to laugh then, or over the next few days of frustration and wailing, as my daughter learned to obey the nature of a bicycle. Once mastered, she gleefully sped along the sidewalk, terrorizing small children, elderly neighbors, and hurried drivers. She experienced accomplishment, yes — but more than that, she experienced the joy of aligning herself with the natural laws of bike riding.
Bikes seem to be one of God’s favorite themes in my own lessons on obedience.
Years after ushering my daughter through this early lesson on the nature of bikes, another bike pushed me through a long overdue lesson about the nature of the masculine — one that my radical feminist formation righteously and rigidly resisted.
“Dear,” my husband crooned over our candlelit dinner and bottle of fine red wine, “I would like to tell you something.” He paused and touched my hand lovingly; I was completely disarmed.
His eyes held mine and, grasping my hand firmly, he said, “I got my motorcycle license today.”
Like my six year old dangling over a wall, I exploded in outrage.
“A motorcycle license? How? Why? What for?” I yanked my hand back to safety. I started to cry, the moment shattered. My mind recalled the scars on his body, badges from his wild days before I knew him. “You gave that up,” I moaned in pain, the romance of the evening replaced by fear of impending, inevitable loss of the greatest gift God ever gave me. I felt doomed to grief. I blew out the candles and felt sick.
Over the next months, I discovered a motorcycle helmet and jacket hidden in the trunk of his car. An odd pair of boots that looked fit only for moon-walking appeared in our closet. Slowly, I began overhearing plans and the excitement in his voice about resuming an activity he loved — one in which he nearly lost his life before our paths had crossed. Occasionally, he offered consolation: “I am older and more mature now. I plan to be careful.”
Still, I railed and wailed and objected. I implored him directly: “Please do not do this to me.” I called upon every feminine wile I could conjure — prayerful, cooing: “I value you, dear. Please do not endanger yourself this way.” I sent him news of middle-aged men, dead after motorcycle, ATV, or racing-boat accidents. I crafted emails with Bible passages about a husband’s responsibility to his wife and family. I inquired about life insurance and estate planning. “Just who is the person I call when you die?” “Lord,” I moaned at Adoration, “change his mind.”
One evening after a funeral in Chicago, I found myself at a local bar, drinking in grief. I’d lost a dear cousin. I was at odds with another family member. I was sleepless and thinking about the impending death of my husband at some place called Deal’s Gap in West Virginia. “Why have you abandoned me, God?” I sighed into my glass of wine.
A young man next to me overheard my sighs, and within minutes, I found myself surrounded by a group of guys, every one of them a machinist attending a conference in Chicago. Suddenly I was confiding my husband’s intention to a crowd of anxious, willing advisors. They all responded in turn, some with lovely animated words, others with tough bravado, and a few more with caring concern. But the message was frighteningly unified: “It’s in his nature. Don’t stand in his way.”
I argued, gave horrific tales of actual tragedies at Deal’s Gap, described the Tree of Shame where bikers injured in their attempts to “slay the Dragon” hang damaged motorcycle parts in homage, described the worst consequences to me and his sons and daughter, and invited them to reflect on their own marriages and young children.
One young man whistled. “Wow, 318 turns in 11 miles of highway. That’s a dragon worth slaying, alright.” Even with my litany of arguments, their answer was the same: “This is the male nature of your husband. Let him be a man.”
Coming back to San Francisco on the plane, I contemplated the feminist’s nightmare words of St. Paul: “Wives must obey their husbands as they would obey the Lord” (Eph 5:21). I considered the nature of my Lord and my final, joyful submission to His will. Tired, nearly overwhelmed by the paradox, my mind turned to the nature of my husband, his masculine self — so foreign, and yet the almost incomprehensible complement to my feminine.
Home at last, we crawled into bed together. “Tell me about your motorcycling,” I whispered in the dark.
He happily unfolded to me his glorious plans on a new black Ducate he’d bought while I was away. Perhaps there was joy for me, too, like our daughter, on the other side of this bike.