On Privileges, Wind, and Inner Cultivation

The past five hundred miles in the Midwest has been a solitary journey. You are by yourself, listening to the Bible, battling the elements: sun, wind, humidity, gravity, and sit-bone pain. What a great time to turn the gaze inward, and do some reflection. Here are a few thoughts.

1. Privileges

For 1,500 hundred miles so far, people have been most welcoming and generous. Every evening, some one would let me camp in their yard. Over half of the times, they let me sleep inside, often on a comfortable couch or even a bed. About a third of the times, they would feed me, and send me on my way with snacks. Always, they would most generously share their life stories, dreams, believes, and would take great interests to hear my story.

But many friends have also reminded me that I am very privileged, even uniquely positioned, to receive such openness, hospitality, and kindness. Just imagine:

If I were Black, I would be a good target for some paranoid neighborhood watch.

If I were Hispanic, people might wonder if I am in the country legally.

If I were Middle Eastern, I might look like a terrorist to some.

Being Chinese, the worst I could be is a spy, trying to steal America's secrets. But most people don't have a blueprint of a Boeing 777 in their home, anyway.

If I were a white American, I wouldn't be as interesting as someone from Inner-Mongolia in China, trying to see the US on bike.

If I were bigger and more muscular, I would be just a little threatening.

If I were not a college graduated, with a job waiting for me, I would be less trustworthy.

If I speak English poorly, or have a heavy accent, I would not be able connect well with the families I stay with.

If I were a bit older, I would be expected to earn enough money to afford a hotel or something.

If I were riding a motorcycle or driving a car across the country, my requests to camp in people's backyard would not be legitimate at all.

If I were a girl, I wouldn't even feel comfortable staying in strangers' home.

So, all the stars are aligned: this is a college-educated, employment-worthy, well-spoken, non-threatening (skinny and tanned), young man from Inner-Mongolia, biking across the US with an American flag on the bike. It is indeed a very long list of privileges. Not to mention all the personal, financial, and psychological support of my friends and mentors. It is very humbling, and I would try to always keep this in mind.

2. The wind of fate is just like the fate of wind.

Other than humidity and hills, a headwind is probably the worst nightmare of a cyclist. Having biked for many days against the wind, I started to realize that the fate of the wind on the road, is just like the wind of fate in life.

We always think that the wind is against us, because that is the only time when we notice the wind. Quite often, the wind is actually behind our back, but given that we are traveling with the wind, we don't notice the wind (It's just air!), or might even notice some head wind, if we are traveling faster than the wind. We rarely thank the tail wind, but always complain about the head wind.

The same is true of fate, of fortune in life. When life is good, we take it for granted, and take all the credit for our success. When we are in less fortune, we blame someone else, or we blame it on fate. Actually, the wind of fate is quite fair, blowing from all directions, but our perception is different.

Maybe we should stop more often, so that we can feel the tail wind of life behind our back.

3. Inner Cultivation

It's either the Bible or the solitude -- the traveler have been paying more attention to the inner activities.  The activities of the mind have even more up-and-downs than the hills on the sides of the Missouri River.

Every time a big truck passes by me at 60 miles an hour, blowing exhaust and dust in my face, I can't help but curse at the stinky semi-trucks. Every time when I have to climb another steep hill under the ruthless sun, I would even hate the landscape, and wonder why I am doing this to myself. But these obstacles are exactly the point. One must learn to find balance and peace in adversities. The road of inner cultivation is long, and has no end. But it surely is a joy to be traveling on the right direction.


Kira Mccoy said...

Your expression of gratitude is inspiring. After tearing my ACL and imagining forward to 9 weeks on crutches, I must remember to look backward at 22 years of my health privilege.

I made a gratitude list in my notebook on July 11th, on July 12th I had the injury and was very depressed. However I realized that all but two items on my list were still possible without a leg! Adversity will strengthen my gratitude and my upper body! And hopefully that head wind will blow it's way to MA to assist with my crutching!

Lanette said...

Love this post, Zilong! Have really been enjoying reading your thoughtful blogs. May the wind be always at your back (except when you need a blast in the face to remind you that's where it's been most of the time).