I can ride my bike with no handlebars

I stress out about parking to an embarrassing degree. When I first moved to Pasadena, someone asked “What do you think?” and the first thing I said was, “It’s hard to find parking.” Our conversation pretty much ended there.

I’m better at parking than I am at conversation sometimes.

On new expeditions, I plan extra time into my travel schedule for, “driving around the block a few times in a state of general confusion and anxiety.” It was during one of these Casual Freakouts in which I found Yolo street. On my way to a job interview, I ended up pulling onto sleepy Yolo to regain my bearings. Then I saw the street sign, laughed, took a picture, and moved on.

A month later, I was back on Yolo street: moving in. I’d taken the job, conscripted a roommate, and landed an apartment. As the name suggests, Yolo was a bit quirky. Once I found a baby doll stuck in a tree on the sidewalk. Some neighbors had a ring of six-foot ghosts in their yard for a month. We lived several months with a giant hole in the ground floor courtyard. At one point we suspected some neighbors of pagan worship? A herd of cats lived in the adjacent lot. The Pasadena Parrots served as my Saturday morning alarm clock.

As a first apartment can tend to go, I labored far too long over every furniture purchase. We went several long weeks without a fridge. Four months before I hung pictures. Six moons before I settled for the Ikea Lack over my Platonic Idea of the Perfect Craigslist Coffee Table. Then—just when I was getting used to our fully functioning living room—the year was up, the lease was up, and my roommate was moving back up to her hometown.

As any Totally Normal Millenial would do, I crafted a new hashtag to help myself cope with the change: #YOLOYOLOO (You Only Live On Yolo Once). As if #YOLO wasn’t already ridiculous enough. I tagged some sappy photos, stole some boxes from a Mexican food restaurant, and moved on with life. My crib count is now at 12 homes, so moving is just like riding a bike at this point.

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I spent a sauna-hot afternoon in Florida teaching my friend Andrea how to ride a bike. During college. Andrea was (and most likely still is) an immensely and diversely talented individual—but somehow she’d missed the “cycling” session of childhood. I’m sorry you missed such a monumental moment in Andrea’s life, but it went something like this:

It’s humorous that I was the one to teach someone else how to ride a bike—because I was fearfully terrified of biking as a child. Seriously. You think my parking is bad, you should have seen me ride a bike at age seven. Granted, my brother was undoubtedly aiming his bike at me like a little Huffy Kamakazi. Still, I remember coming inside after a grueling few rounds in the cul-de-sac: hands blistered, red, and sore from squeezing the handlebars so tightly.

All of my fear—of falling, of being sideswiped by the six-year-old speed racer—all of it went into grasping the handlebars of my bike with an iron grip of horror. The goal was not “have fun”. The goal was “Survive. Do not fall over. do not get hit by the demon brother.” Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed biking. I just would have enjoyed it a lot more if I’d been more preoccupied with the wind in my helmet hair and less with the roadside dangers of suburban Washington state (harrying as they are).

One of my favorite lines from Mary Poppins (My Personal Hero) is, “I shall stay until the wind changes.” At first, the children aren’t keen on such a flighty promise. Who would be? After all, she’s The Mary P. She’s basically adult Hermione, set in old school England. Legitimate conspiracies propagate that she is a time lord. She’s a beautiful, smart, aloof, nanny/witch. Eventually, however, Jane and Michael are able to accept Mary’s inevitable departure and be grateful for the time they had with her and the things they learned from her. Her stupid Parrot Umbrella saw their contentment as ingratitude, but he was always the worst anyway.

Moving to California was hard for me. I had to leave people like Andrea at what I thought was a premature time. But the winds have shifted many times over, and now I’m saying gut-wrenching goodbyes to friends I only met a year ago. I just bought my plane ticket for Andrea’s wedding—isn’t that madness? She only learned to ride a bike five years ago, and now she’s getting married and her dissertation is published. I also recently bought a dear friend’s bike. She’s moving from Pasadena to New York and it feels heartbreakingly too soon—but I have to accept God’s timing and be grateful for the memories and lessons I’ve been gifted.

I want to be okay with the idea that people will stay until the winds change. I want to ease up on the bicycle handles. I want to be less preoccupied with where to park, and more observant of the signs. This past year alone, I’ve seen people lose their marriages, SOs, apartments, new jobs, old jobs, cars, friends, relatives, and health. I’ve also seen relationships begin, marriages blossom, apartments appear, jobs work out, and friendships form. The ones who have coped the best are the ones who didn’t try to iron-grip their way out of the pain: they kept open hands to God’s gifts.

It seems like all of my friends are leaving me right now—but the beauty of that is that they are all friends I didn’t have a year ago. Losing something means that I was blessed to have something in the first place, and that’s worth being grateful about.

The reality is that while in Christ we live forever, you only live on Yolo street once. Each episode of life is finite, precious, unique, and irreplaceable. Humans generally deal with this truth in one of two ways: either by trying to love too tightly, or not loving at all. I’ve been guilty of both. But isn’t it better to have someone to wave to when you leave?

Graduation from Florida College was a hurricane of emotions. It meant parting with a group of people I wasn’t sure I could live without. I spent the next year reeling from homesickness and missing those deep friendships. But Pepperdine graduation was sad in its own way because of all the relationships and experiences I’d missed out on building. Coming in as a transfer, I’d felt disengaged from the get-go, and never ventured well enough to change that. Sitting in a crowd of peers all sad about missing each other, I was jealous that they had goodbyes to give.

It’s not just with friendships—I catch myself living life as if the goal is “do not fall over. do not get hit by [insert calamity].” But that’s not the goal. And when I’m steering from a place of fear, I’m bound to wind up blistered, sore, and exhausted. That’s not what God wants for me, either. As my roommate recently texted me, “Be bold! Timidity is for ppl who don’t know Christ!” When I’m too preoccupied over the precise features of the coffee table, I forget to gather people around it. When I’m too fearful of making the wrong decision, I can end up making no decisions at all. Not every choice is a life-altering, world-ending, show-stopping big deal. If I loosen my grip, it’s possible that I’ll fall off the bike. But if I hold onto the handlebars of life desperately, it’s guaranteed that I’ll return home with hands blistered, sore, and weary.

I’m not on Yolo anymore—I live on a busier street now. Our front porch is loud with the constant roar of cars speeding past. But when I sit outside for long enough, there’s a lull. Then I hear the crickets and the parrots and the wind. The Pasadena Parrots proudly proclaim their enjoyment of our city. That is, I suppose, until the winds take them elsewhere. I want to be a Pasadena Parrot.


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