The one year anniversary of the second time I dropped my BMW C600s is in a few days. We have all done it. It is something we learn from. It is failure.
Society does not tell us to put on our pants, get out there, and fail. No one ever said, “Lose one for the Gipper.” Bikes are born to be ridden, not dropped unceremoniously onto their sides. But mine are…
I was mortified both times I dropped the BMW. The first time was after brunch in Chestnut Hill a few days after I had purchased the bike. I couldn’t handle a slow left out of a parking spot across oncoming traffic on Germantown Ave. Six hundred pounds of German engineering came down on my left leg and a neighboring Yamaha. My first thought, of course, went to the safety of the bike. (The leg could heal. The dude with the Yamaha was understanding.) My ex-boyfriend had already pulled out on his bike and was across the street, annoyed and angry with me.
But a total stranger in a mini-van stopped the traffic on Germantown Ave, exited his vehicle, and lifted the bike off of me. (My ability to dead-lift 600 pounds is poor, particularly when I am beneath the object in question.) I will never forget the kindness of that random stranger, or the brutal honesty of my ex-boyfriend who told me that I could have made the turn. (And then took me to the IKEA parking lot to drill me on tight lefts for an hour.)
The second drop was another left-hand merge situation. (Sometimes failure comes in patterns.) Although I have contemplated whether I could simply content myself with a left-less existence, one cannot simply avoid turning left forever. (Unless one is Magellan, circumnavigating in broad circles.) On drop Number Two, a friend’s wife yanked the bike off me and my left ankle. (She has no problem dead-lifting 600 pounds.). Even though my leg again generously offered to break the bike’s fall, this drop was bad enough to crack the fairing.
New bike + cracked fairing = embarrassment, sadness, and tears. The guys I was riding with consoled me and patched the crack using the only thing at their disposal: stickers for their riding club. Sometimes the best you can do with failure is patch over it with stickers.
In our curated world that glorifies constant success or at least the appearance of success (if you can’t muster the real thing), it is hard to admit to or discuss failures. Signs of weakness summon sharks. But, they can also summon true friends and acts of kindness, however.
Today I acknowledge that I have dropped bikes. And careers, and relationships, and friendships — shattering them against the ground. Sometimes strangers help me out. Sometimes friends give me stickers because duct tape is not available. Even though my ex isn’t around to tell me that failures are my fault, that doesn’t mean they aren’t. Gravity doesn’t suddenly reach out for me. Bikes don’t spontaneously become self-aware and jerk to the left in search of freedom. I am there. I am implicated on the page. Every failure is mine, as are its lessons.
Success, for all her glory and circumstance, is a lousy teacher. She only teaches you to repeat the same thing you just did — which happened to work. Failure, though — there’s a sage guide. I can feel when the BMW is starting to pitch too far to the left now. Maybe someday I can say the same thing about careers, relationships, and friendships. Until then, I will take Failure’s lessons as they come and repair the broken fairings as best I can. As we all do. And for those times that I can be the stranger in the minivan or the friend with the stickers, when other people drop their bikes, so much the better.