Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Madness

Originally posted on Posterous, January 29, 2013

I saw a most unusual, and impressive, thing, a week or so ago.

I'd had lunch with a friend, and was coming from Kirkwood back to Webster. Going the opposite direction, rolling west up Big Bend towards Kirkwood from I-44 was a cort├Ęge, for the funeral of an iron horseman, it appeared. Something like 60 or 80 Harleys, all gleaming chrome, passed, moving two by two at a surprisingly sedate pace. The riders all wore black, and rode, eyes forward, with silent decorum, followed by a hearse. A Victorian Gothic glass-sided affair, all scrollwork and decorative black festoons, it was pulled by what has to have been the biggest bike I’ve ever seen.

The guy riding it could have passed for Hagar the Horrible: he was enormous, wearing battered jeans and a studded black-leather vest; bare arms; bare chest; copious tattoos. World-war-I spiked German army-style helmet, coal-colored aviators, and a long, rust-brown beard blowing in the bitter wind.

It was 27F that afternoon, with a stiff breeze blowing: braving the elements on a motorcycle in jeans and a loose vest was no mean tribute to whoever was riding in the hearse behind him.

Anyone who’s ever been to one knows funerals aren't for the dead, they're for the living. They’re intended to provide comfort for the bereaved, as well as a suitable send-off for the deceased. This was surely a man who lived—like the people laying him to rest—after the fashion of his liking, in a way considered outlandish, possibly even threatening, by more mundane folk—a freedom few people achieve.

Bikers aren’t famous for caring what other folk think, and y’know, there’s a lot to be said for refusing to be constrained by someone else’s ‘shoulds.’ Choosing instead a lifestyle that allows room to be the most you can be, in a way that feels authentic, without hounding or hindering others.

Doubtless the guy pulling the hearse grew up being told, “Don’t go out without a jacket in this weather!” by his well-intentioned mother. His willingness, and that of his companions, to suffer the bitter cold to honor the dead man behind them, told me all I needed to know about them. With a dignity befitting their chosen mores, rather than looking ill at ease in unaccustomed suits and ties, they saw to it that their comrade’s exit matched the way he had lived.

Being, and staying, true to yourself, and to your values—however outlandish that might seem to someone else—while allowing others that same privilege, is an art form few people master. If more of us did so, in our own chosen ways, I think the world might well be a better place.

Go for it.

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