Sunday, March 29, 2009

For Gary.

I first met Gary when I was trying new classes at church. He was a long time member and I was new there. We were about the same age, but he looked a bit frail and I learned that he had been fighting a long battle with cancer.

Every so often, if he was doing well, he would stop by the class but I never spoke to him. I had that odd feeling that one can get when you are around a very ill person where it just feels awkward to sit and talk to them. What do you say to someone like that when you first meet them? Sorry? Hope you feel better? I will pray for you? All that is fine, but it just feels inadequate so I avoided the moment and I knew that I was running away.

One night in class we were assigned to sit with someone we did not know. I ended up with Gary. No running away now. He looked pretty beat, a bit gaunt, but his voice was strong, and with a twinkle in his eye, he looked at me and said, "I hear you ride bikes?"

What followed was an hour of talking about all things bike. Gary was an avid cyclist. A road rider mostly, he seldom got into the dirt. But Gary was a serious rider, doing centuries, doubles, club rides, races, whatever. We talked about great routes we knew of. We talked about equipment and what made a bike special, what made it sing. He talked about when he could ride again and when he got his strength back, what bike he always wanted to buy but never did.

And when he spoke of the great thing that riding a bike is, the simple pleasure of the wheel in motion, the passion of the pursuit, the pain of attaining a summit and the thrill of the descent, he was transformed. His body was weak and limited but his mind and spirit were pedaling smooth circles, lightly gripping the hoods, looking ahead for the next bend in the road. Only God can transform a soul but cycling can transform the spirit, even if the body is not able, and right then in that padded, cheap steel chair, Gary was riding again.

Gary turned that last bend the other day as he passed away into the waiting arms of a God he loved and served willingly. He worked hard the last year of his life preparing his family, his wife, and setting his life in order. He was working to begin a hospice care at a local mission camp for terminal patients so they could have a place to be with dignity. He was, to the end, a living example of selflessness and the love of Christ to a messed up world.

And he was one more thing. He was a cyclist.