Of Potholes and Tenderness


I am in a season of severe dismantling.

Seasons are like that- some are for planting and growing and watering, some are for the falling apart and the stripping bare. Some are easy, some are difficult. Some build up and others tear down. This is how the world goes and it is a beautiful thing.

And yet.

I feel as though I am not alone when I say this: that it is hard to adjust the feet to walk on boulders and briars, when they are accustomed to soft sand and grass. Adjusting to your life when life inevitably happens, unscripted in all its glory- this is a hard thing. It takes much trial and error and it requires from us a total shift in awareness. It requires a reconditioning of our bodies, our minds. When you are treading through the murk of unexpected and prolonged hardship, you must learn to adapt. 


The weather in Michigan has been wonderful. Truly, it has. It is such a nostalgic and comforting miracle, to see college kids tossing Frisbees once more and the lines at ice-cream shops spilling out doors and clogging up sidewalks. It has been particularly warm, unseasonably so. Pedestrians don sandals and bare shoulders, all windows are rolled down in passing cars. Weather like this is a treat in Michigan, and every local knows: when unanticipated but glorious weather comes your way, you throw plans out the window and embrace it wholeheartedly. For, tomorrow there could be snow.

It was on one of these warm days that, after speeding home from work with sparkling eyes and a bliss-filled heart, I dusted off my father’s bike and walked it carefully from the garage. Bending down to the handlebars, I blew warm air and dust scattered, catching the light from beaming windows, refracting it. I gave the tires a quick squeeze and was astonished to find them still full from last summer; this comforted me in a way I do not fully understand. Tracing the contours of the seat with my fingers, running them down brake lines and gears, I paused and took a breath.

I live in the country, down a multitude of dirt roads and corn-filled fields. With tires spinning and hair catching the breeze, I pedaled in intervals- furiously, then lazily, then not at all- letting my feet dangle in the sun and my eyes rest bravely, lashes brushing against cheeks. I would come to a downhill and coast the entire way, standing on my pedals in a jockey-like position. When I was younger with my sister and cousin, we would ride like this and pretend our bikes were muscle and mane, instead of steel and rubber. We would ride them like they were horses, perfecting our equitation- shoulders back, head up. Hands soft on the handle bars.

I rode like this for two sides of my block before I started to hit the potholes. Try as I did, to guide my bike safely around the craters, hitting them was inevitable. At every collision, my front tire was engulfed and the whole frame shook. The constant tremor made my arms itchy and red. I would try to navigate around the bumps and valleys, to find a peninsula of land that my tires could safely skid across, but I never made it out fully unscathed. There were just too many. So I learned that if I could not avoid them, instead I could brace for them. I would see the potholes up ahead and tighten my grip, curling fingers fiercely and locking elbows. Expecting the worst every time, I resolved to render myself immovable, unshakeable.

But, this was jarring. I would set my legs and straighten my arms to take on the holes head first, but there was no relief. The quaking got more violent and my vision shook. It felt like an earthquake.

It wasn’t until I let my arms relax that things got better. I loosened slightly my fearsome grip and abandoned any fixed notion of control. I let my legs absorb the impact, instead of fight it. And it made for a much smoother ride.


The seasons of dismantling will come. And when they do, when our lives are brimming with potholes we cannot avoid, remain soft. Please, remain soft. This is not usually our first response. I know it is not mine. We think we can set ourselves against the wind and against the world with clenched fists and an iron will, but this will only rattle us further. We will fracture our bones and fracture our hearts if we ride through life like this.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance…”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

Learn to set your sails into the wind instead of against it, and you will find that in the storm you have travelled a greater distance. We can let the wind propel us, and we can let the potholes catapult us to greater heights. Just remain soft, so that when the hard seasons end, you may find yourself stronger for it. Strength correlates with vulnerability, and power with humility. Sometimes the seemingly contradictory go hand in hand.

A tender soul cannot shatter. Only brittle things break. And we can still learn to embrace.


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