Thursday, July 3, 2008
Sine Qua Non
Without which there cannot be. It’s a Latin legal term for what is indispensable, essential— the body that denotes the crime. More recently it has come to stand, in a broader social context, for the thing that gives meaning to life.
That we think of cycling as sine qua non is no surprise. Anything that adds meaning to life with each rising sun cannot be otherwise. For us, cycling is a beloved part of any meaningful day.
This spring a friend had a crash—his second this year—which left him sore for weeks. It was enough to shake his faith in cycling. He admitted some weeks later that he considered getting off the bike.
His statement got me to thinking about the cyclists I’ve known over the years who have given up the sport. Some drifted away, appearing on group rides less and less over a succession of months until one day someone asks, “Hey, whatever happened to…?” Others seem to vanish, disappearing as suddenly as if they had moved to another city. And then others moved on to the next fad when Lance retired. Ten years ago they were into fly fishing, and now it’s golf or something. No matter which way, I’m always mystified by their turn away from the sport. How someone can log hundreds of miles per week for years at a time and then suddenly turn it off like a light switch at bedtime is a bigger mystery than the fall of Rome.
Notwithstanding the incredible demands that family and career can place on our lives, some cyclists simply move away from the sport. That anyone can decide, “I’ve had enough of this,” has caused me to wonder just what it is so many of us find so requisite. We may think cycling’s draw is to obvious what Michael Jackson is to freak show, but we also know we’re in the minority on this. Frankly, it’s easier to understand those who never come to appreciate cycling’s draw than it is to comprehend those who wander from the light.
Cycling’s place in the lives of the lifers isn’t at the pinnacle; it only seems so. It’s easy to think that because cycling is often the most enjoyable thing we do in a day, it must be the best part of our lives, but you’d never say such words aloud. The truth is, cycling can be the glue that holds the fragile bits of our lives together. It’s the release that makes paying the bills, taking out the trash and the unfinished action item possible.
Back in the good ole days when Greg LeMond was wearing the yellow jersey, he made a statement that gets at the heart of the matter. Alluding to his family he said (and I paraphrase), ‘Without them none of this would have been possible. I’d never have won the Tour; I wouldn’t be in yellow now.’
And maybe that’s the secret. Cycling gives us the ability to achieve more than we could without it. Our relationship to cycling is a sort of marriage. But it’s married to more than us—we’ve wedded it to our lives. When it works, it can teach us not the value of sticking with something, but how walking away from anything robs us of more than the thing itself.