Monday, July 30, 2012

Drag and Draft, Part 2: Dead Weight and the Wake of Great Widths of Being

Some tribes operate with the tacit social contract of shared work.  Yet thinking through this simple division of work only opens the door to more questions. There are complications with an even distribution of work, aren't there?  Not all riders are built the same, and not all riders have the same tolerance for work.  One French-Canadian rider in our group drafted for 5-10 miles one day, and while the three men alternated the front position, she rested in the back.  She referred to herself -- all 90 pounds and 5-foot nothing of her -- as "dead weight."  A fair statement?  On the one hand, we were "pulling her" along.  But that seems imprecise, in that we exerted no additional effort in shielding her from the wind.  So there was no literal burden on our shoulders.  Yet one might claim that there was a figurative burden, that this rider was not "pulling" her own weight.  And so our sense of fairness, rather than our body, is burdened.  Thus among the tribe, the tacit, shared presumption -- the "warrant" in rhetorical argumentation --is that each member of a group must carry equal burden, an equal load.  

But is this warrant correct?  It presumes that work remains quantitatively understood and divided like a tray of brownies in a 1st-grade classroom.   In cycling terms, such a warrant would dictate that each rider should, for example, lead for 2 miles.  But does this directive -- a sort of "flat tax" for cyclists -- consider differences in stature, weight, and ability?  Should equity be predicated on the assumption that we are all the same or should our understanding of tribes and communities take into consideration the vast differences in our capacities?

When I think of the riders among us -- some pushing along with bikes both cheaper and heavier than most, some riding well into their 70's, others riding with 80, 60, or 40 extra pounds (it becomes less and less as we ride!), and still others riding with knee problems or scoliosis or back pain or on a tank-and-a-half of lung, I am overcome -- hit hard by some recognition of fight, and with this epiphany, my sense of riding and living seems more expansive.  Truth be told, my simultaneous fear is that this hard hit of truth is short-lived and that I will quickly return to some redundant paint-by number thought, where I applaud the fast and fit and first one in.  In my better moments, I know that so often the fight from the back of the pack is fought with greater grit and grace. 

Hannah Arendt, in her work The Human Condition, writes about plurality, inherent in all action of the world.  Plurality is an idea predicated on the dual paradox of human nature: that while we are equal, we are also distinctive.  Equal does not mean interchangeable, as each of us are distinct - in mind, body, and spirit.  The complexity of the world is a network of action which balances of equity with some awareness -- even celebration -- of distinction.   She writes that we are all "the same, human, in such a way as nobody is ever the same as anyone else who has lived, lives or will live" (HC 7-8).

Years ago, I had a wonderful Shakespeare professor who pointed out Jaques's speech on the stages of man in As You Like It.  In soliloqy, Jaques cynically defines the last stage of life as "[t]he last scene of all/That ends this strange eventful history"  He continued to characterize the end of our days as a "second childishness and mere oblivion/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything" (II.vii. ll. 164-6).  In response to this moment, my professor questioned whether these words are the last word -- a born alone/die alone trajectory in which we move toward some oblivion of "without."   
She then asked the class what happens next.  And what happens is this: Orlando enters with the aged and "venerable" Adam -- the youth Orlando carrying the weary Adam -- Orlando must be carrying Adam, for the Duke says, "Welcome.  Set down your venerable burthen/And let him feed" (II.vii. ll. 167-8).

When this tiny, powerful Quebec woman told me she was "dead weight," I thought "pas du tout, pas du tout."  Instead, I said, "not at all.  Ride behind us.  We are wide men."   I wanted to fold her into our wake -- the wake of three men who can block wind.  I wanted her to follow us.  I knew we could carry her until the wind died down. 

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely brilliant Christian! I concur and must admit that during those first four weeks when I was there riding with you I had so many days when I wished for "wide men" who would carry me in their wake. But to benefit from the strength of others one must possess a certain amount of strength to even be in a position to claim their assistance. I was never fast enough to keep up with those who might have been willing to "pull" me, presenting a sort of 'catch 22' for me. I needed to be stronger to get help for my weakness. Now that I have returned home I find that I am so much stronger for the effort that I did exert and have become a much better cyclist for it. Getting to know you and reading your posts has made me a better person and for that I thank you.