We’re Not in Kansas Anymore Toto

Her name is Bonnie.  She is a nurse at Rex Health care and works in the post surgical wound care division. She commutes to work from Garner, about 30 minutes each way. She is 5’3″, my exact height. That is literally the only information I know about her. I have no idea how old she is, what she looks like or even what her last name is. I don’t know if she has kids or friends or dogs or a church or a house or what.

Apparently she likes to ride bikes. Really nice ones.

Bonnie recently saw my friend as a patient and they got to talking about cycling. Turns out she had a bike in her garage she wanted to get rid of. A road bike, the kind with skinny tires and low handle bars that they ride in Breaking Away, only this one is made of carbon-graphite composite and weighs less than 5 pounds.  The kind those insane bike messengers in big cities use to weave in and out of traffic. While living in Manhattan, I never feared being hit by a cab but there were a few close calls with the psycho kamikazes with packages and a death wish.

If I ever write that first novel, the one that is a thin veil for an autobiography, I know the opening line: “I got in the car today and had an epiphany while backing out of my parking space: I am not going to grow any taller. I am 29.” So it seems funny that height would finally play a role in something I do write. My hallelujah moment is still correct and at 40 I am 5’3″. I am sure I was meant to be taller. I have such a bigger personality than 5’3″. Maybe if my size fit my persona, I would be too much. I am sure my husband thinks so. But there are so many annoyances to being short: Hemming costs. Having to be older to ride rides at amusement parks. Theater going in general. Constantly dragging chairs across the kitchen floor to reach items on the top shelf. Getting lost in a crowd. Being called cute or spunky or perky.

But this week 5’3″ is the golden ticket. Because Nurse Bonnie wanted to get rid of her really nice bike and guess who the lucky recipient is? Yep. I did not even have to pick it up. She brought it to work and my friend brought it to my driveway from his last appointment. And I am now the owner of a really cool Trek road bike that will enable me to do triathlons. I don’t even know enough about bikes to list the great details here but it looks cool and that’s half the battle when you have to wear really tight shorts to participate right?

Bonnie’s kindness overwhelmed me. She doesn’t even know how undeserving I am of this.  The point of this gesture, I guess, is to follow by example or, to borrow the phrase from the movie, pay it forward.  I called a charity which provides families and homes for troubled teen boys. I am going to give them my mountain bike and hope it makes someone smile or provides transportation or maybe even inspires a new healthy endeavor. I got to thinking that our subtle views of inadequacy  hold us back from giving what we can. We have all seen the shows where Oprah gives everyone in the audience a new car. I have found myself saying wow it must feel great to be able to do that, to have so much  you can make a difference in someone’s life…like a new car. But don’t we all have something the world wants? Before you say no, come with me. Don’t you have a funny story to share or a great recipe or something bad that happened to you that might make someone else feel less alone? What about five minutes to call your grandmother? A day to spend at the zoo or an article cut out of a newspaper worthy of a stamp and a real envelope? Bonnie’s bike giving is big and so is just about everything Oprah does. But all the little things add up to making a big difference.

My city of Raleigh, NC was hit by a tornado this weekend. My husband and two of my girls were caught in Target. While he was assuring them a large cement store was a safe place to ride out the storm, the power went off and the cashiers screamed like they were being stabbed in the ears with ice picks (his words not mine). Coco was petrified and Anna clung tightly while they were relocated to a safety room in the back of the store. Cheyney and I were at home, making dinner and should probably have paid more attention to our dog cowering in the bathroom. But he’s a scaredycat and was abused by his previous owners so Roy does this sort of thing on trash and recycling day too. Roy is the dog that cries wolf. At the time I did not think much of the weather outside other than to be relieved I was not in it and to wonder if the basement was going to flood.  But it was really bad. One lady was hiding in her bathtub when it fell through the floor and fractured her face. 200,000 homes were without power. Trees uprooted, cars toppled over, stores and homes destroyed. Downtown was still without many of it’s traffic lights on Monday. People died.

When Coco was 3, she became obsessed with the Wizard of Oz. She watched the movie, went to the play, and wore ruby red slippers everyday. She had a blue gingham Dorothy dress that came with a basket and a mangy dog that resembled Toto. She would even let me put braids with red ribbons in her hair when the costume was on. Truth be told, Coco looked a bit like Judy Garland back then. I wonder if that’s part of why she was so scared by the tornado. I never really grew tired of seeing snippets of that movie. It brought back a million of my own childhood memories, sitting as a family watching that or The Sound of Music after a holiday meal, back when once a  year was your only chance to grab these treasures. Everything now is so at our fingertips. Pause the movie, order it on demand later, fast forward through the commercials, watch what you want when you want. If it’s not ideal we don’t do it. Whether it’s giving stuff away or taking time to be. And it takes a huge wind tunnel wreaking havoc on a city for us to slow down and pay attention long enough to realize: I matter. Today matters. My neighbor, huddled in her basement, matters. And we matter together. The way we treat one another matters. Not because it will get you into the kingdom of heaven or even get good things for you here on earth. It matters because this is the one trip you get. There is no rehearsal or do-over or shouldacouldawoulda. And who knows the trash in your garage might make a huge difference in some strangers life.

4 responses to this post.

  1. you just “paid it forward” for your readers by sharing this thoughtful (in both senses) essay.


  2. Posted by Julie on April 19, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    I get so excited when Susan puts the blog up for view. Thanks and i know you will love the bike, have fun with it! J


  3. Posted by Allison Atkinson on April 19, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    Since “The Gathering” I have learned that 5 feet, 1 and 3/4 inches is big enough to hold all of the creative urges and abilities that I need for this one sacred journey on the earth. I have been giving the slimmest portions of what I have to give for so long because I did not know what was inside for me to share. My epiphany was not knowing I was height disadvantaged, but discovering I am at least 5’9″ (without heels) through the looking glass.


  4. Great post, Melanie — thanks so much.


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