Sometimes we find gratitude in places where we least expect it. I love Wendy Mogul’s book, “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee.” In this book, Mogul says that parents should allow their children to experience the world in its entirety, including the difficult, sad, and disappointing stuff.  The consequences of their own decisions teach children better than anything else could. Little did I know, that there are actual blessings from actual skinned knees. Even for grown ups.

Tonight, I had a little mishap while riding my bike. A young boy, probably 10 or 11, cut me off and his bike and my bike collided. I went flying across the bike path, praying the entire time that I wouldn’t fall really hard or seriously hurt anything. Once on the ground, I saw my left leg bleeding with a serious case of road rash.

My knee is skinned.

Finding the blessings of my skinned knee

I was covered with sand (It was the lake path, after all) and my bike was on top of me. The boy ran over, clearly feeling terrible, and pulled my bike off of me. At this point, I was annoyed and in pain. I barked a little at the boy about not cutting people off and barked a little more to get him to move my bike out of the way. I was ready for a pity party because clearly, my injuries were a big deal. And I was in my 50’s! Even more reason to pity me.

I did decide to finish my ride, which meant continuing forward a few more miles before turning around and riding home. Once I got to my turn around point at Navy Pier, I took a little break. And as I stood there at the drinking fountain, scrubbing my hands to get the grease off, what happened next completely reframed my thinking. A young man saw my leg and expressed concern. He was so kind and warm and encouraging. I eventually told him, “If this had happened to one of my kids, I would have said, ‘You are fine! Buck up!'” So he looked at me with an impish grin and said, “Well, then. Buck up!” He was right. I needed to end the pity party and get over it.

The entire bike ride home I found myself reviewing what had happened after I had fallen, and realized that I had many more things to be thankful for than angry about. So, in that spirit, here is my list of observations that have inspired gratitude in me and given me a new understanding about “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee.”

  1. I had just bought a new pair of biking capris and was considering wearing them on this ride. Had I worn them, they would have been torn.
  2. To continue on the clothing front, I have a little blood on my shorts and perhaps some grease, but essentially, no clothing was ruined in the making of this skinned knee.
  3. When I fell, a really nice guy came over to me and understood that standing up was going to be a challenge. So he put out his hands and actually pulled me up. Not an easy job, for sure. But it was easier for him than it would have been 50+ pounds ago.
  4. Once I was standing, I lost count of how many people stopped to ask me if I was ok. This happened right after I fell too. They came over to me, stopped, looked me in the face and asked me if I was ok or if I needed anything. Humans can be ok sometimes.
  5. I checked Facebook after I was standing for a minute. (Of course I did!) The first thing I noticed was that one of my sons had liked a note I wrote in 2009 that was something like 25 things about me. I reread it when I saw that he had liked it and was really proud of what I wrote. It included statements like, “I really, genuinely like my kids” and “West Wing is a really cool show.”
  6. There was no major damage to my bike and I was able to fix my bike myself. And I was able to get most of the grease off of my hands with only water and a few pieces of tissue.
  7. Sometimes we all need a guy like the one I met at the halfway point who told me to buck up.
  8. When I stopped at the halfway point, I also met a mom with her 3 young kids. Her youngest daughter was named Sofia. Like my Sophia. That always makes me happy.
  9. I always knew I was pretty strong and pretty tough. However, tonight will provide me with some reinforcement should I ever forget. I finished my damn ride. The whole thing. I didn’t wimp out and cut it short.
  10. I bet that young boy with whom I collided is going to be a little bit more careful on future bike rides.

By normal standards, tonight was not my best bike ride. I fell off my bike, have some nasty road rash, swallowed one bug, and got another in my eye. And in a few minutes, I will go in the shower and wince at least a little bit as I clean up my injury. What I have learned, however, is that I move perhaps a little too quickly in difficult experiences to anger and thinking negatively. I am going to challenge myself to reframe my thinking during these moments. Because, as I discovered tonight, there is generally much more that is positive in most experiences (certainly with some exceptions) than negative. And when I focus on that, I am a much happier person.

 

It was 10:30 p.m. I had decided to challenge myself with a 12 mile bike ride home from the northernmost Chicago el stop. I was riding in the street because it was far better lit than the sidewalks. Which is a totally legal thing for me to do. I was coaching myself along because riding home late at night was a bit outside of my comfort zone. Out of nowhere, a man shouted, “GET OFF THE ROAD!” I almost fell over. He scared the living daylights out of me.

This was the second time that week that someone had shouted at me as I was innocently biking along. Earlier in the week, a man shouted, “GET ON THE SIDEWALK!” Of course there where no sidewalks. And I told him so when I shouted back. Which I am totally sure he heard. <sarcasm>

Both of these incidents had me wondering what it was in my behavior that inspired these people to be so angry and hostile. Were they just not good at sharing the road? Were they in a hurry and was I slowing them down? In any case, they acted like they did in fact, own the road and I was in their way.

My experiences with these rude drivers were just demonstrations to me that we have become a country of narcissists. So many people believe that everything and everyone around them should accommodate them. That they should not have to be inconvenienced by other people. I have certainly witnessed it often in our far too rich for their own good suburban area.

It’s incredibly annoying to deal with people who think the planets and the sun all revolve around them. But I also think there are larger consequences to this attitude than just being annoying to the rest of us. People who are narcissists don’t believe in being responsible for their behavior, which leads to their not understanding the connection between their behavior and the consequences of their behavior. I believe this lack of understanding has at least some of its roots in parents constantly telling kids how talented and brilliant they are and calling to bail kids out every time they get into trouble. Ultimately, it leads to drivers on the road yelling at bikers like me because they don’t like that I have inconvenienced them.

I remember watching a Saturday Night Live spoof called, You Can Do Anything! Guests come on the show and perform, doing things they have never done, just because. They receive unquestioned support and applause. The guests say ironic and revealing things like, “No one is ever honest with me about how mediocre I am,” and “I tried and therefore no one should criticize me.” We are so eager to protect children now that we limit their ability to function in the world. Self-esteem has become a reason never to tell our kids they have messed up. Once they grow up, these same people don’t have the ability to understand and accept their role when things go badly for them. Sadly, this lack of introspection means that they aren’t using their failures as learning opportunities to change and grow and improve as human beings.

My hope is that, over time, people will get fed up with this behavior and tell people to knock it off. It means we will need to hold people responsible for their actions. Especially our children. We can do this respectfully and kindly, without shaming anyone. But we must do it.

We also must think about our own role in relationships, jobs, and other experiences that don’t go well. Taking some time when we fail at something, to figure out why what we did, didn’t work. Even if we have a horrible boss, we can almost always find ways in which we played a role in getting fired. Working at understanding what that role is will help us with the next job, the next relationship, or any of our next experiences.

Ultimately, if enough people do this, my bike rides will get a little more pleasant. Because after all, it really is all about me. 😉