12 June 2016

What I Thought About When I Didn't Have The Energy To Do Anything But Ride

While out for a ride, I stopped in a deli in Rockaway Beach.  A woman who, I would guess, has lived in the neighborhood for most, if not all, of her life chatted with the man behind the counter.  

"I don't understand how one person could go into a nightclub and just start shooting," the man said.

"I don't know what this world is coming to," the woman intoned.

"He's from Afghanistan, so right away they assume it's terrorism.  He said he hates gay people!", the man exclaimed.

The woman made the sign of the cross.  "They are God's children.  Didn't he understand that?"

It was one of those conversations I was tempted to jump into, but didn't.  I really couldn't have said anything that could have elucidated or even contradicted anything they were saying.  But I also had a perhaps-less-noble reason:  I was on a bike ride and that was all I wanted to do, besides buy a bottle of water and a bag of nuts in the deli.

I was riding, not only because it was a gorgeous day, but also because, after hearing the news about the shootings in an Orlando night club, I didn't have the energy to do anything else.  Perhaps that seems counterintuitive, but it was how I felt.  I didn't have whatever I needed to talk to anybody or to even locate, let alone process, my feelings about that tragedy--or the cyclists who were run down in Michigan or Muhammad Ali's last years, or about a few things in my own life.  The only energy that remained in me was the kind that propels me to ride.  Although it is mainly physical, it is not entirely so.

While continuing on my ride, I thought about those two people.  The man--whom I guessed to be younger than me, but not much, and from somewhere in Central or South America--seemed, in what he said, trying to cling on to some certainty because another he'd held was no longer valid or tenable.  The woman, who is probably a decade or older than I am and, from her looks, of Irish or some other northern European ancestry, seemed shocked because she thought she'd seen it all, but now she realizes there's something even more unfathomable.

When I stopped at Jacob Riis Park and stared into the ocean, I realized that they had both misunderstood something that I, until that moment, also misconstrued.  It's not a matter of what the world is coming to, as that woman lamented.  It's what people are doing in the face of such uncertainty.  Which relates to something the man said:  The shooter, Omar Mateen, may well have hated gay people and, as some authorities have said, been "self-radicalized".  But there are many young men like him who don't like gays or some other group of people or another whom they perceive as a threat or simply different, and who adopt extreme ideologies--whether political, religious or otherwise--because their experiences lead them to believe that what they have been taught are lies, or simply didn't prepare them for life.  Perhaps he sees the dream his parents had when they emigrated to this country as an illusion, or worse.  

Now, what I am saying about Mr. Mateen's mental processes is, of course, speculation, as I have never spoken with him and he is dead now.  But I have heard others in situations like his express similar feelings and, in my youth, I had times when I felt that nothing I'd ever learned, nothing I'd ever heard, could help me to achieve any sort of satisfying personal or professional life--or that those things were even possible.  Lots of young people have such thoughts and feelings.  Some find outlets for them; others turn their anger and anxiety on themselves.  At various times in my life, I did both.  But something--we'll probably never know exactly what--causes pepole like Mr. Mateen to tip into destruction of others, and themselves.

What's terribly ironic is that, in a way, he took out his frustration in exactly the way Donald Trump and his supporters are: by blaming people who are different from themselves, people they probably never meet in their everyday lives:  people they cannot understand.  They can only see such people as threats.  The difference, of course, is that Trump has the money and other resources to spark the resentments of those who feel that the world has passed them by and that those aliens, those icky gay men, are "taking over."  All Omar Mateen had was a gun.

His ex-wife has been talking.  He beat her, she says.  That makes perfect sense.  I have been in an abusive relationship, so I know that abusers abuse because they feel threatened--or they simply need for someone else to subordinate him or her self.  He was 29 years old and, I would guess, saw the future as a tunnel without light at the end of it.  He wanted to be a cop, but had been working as a security guard for nearly a decade.  That must have been frustrating, to say the least.

(I must add, too, that he was in Florida.  Law enforcement officials here in New York say that the majority of illegal guns on our streets are purchased in the Sunshine State and brought back along I-95.  It makes sense that in Florida, one can buy a gun in a Wal-Mart as easily as one can buy a fishing reel.)

Anyway...whatever his motivations, the world is moving on.  It will still be here, even if all of the nuclear weapons in the world are detonated and all of the ice caps melt.  But the question is whether or not it will be a planet humans, or other life forms as we know them, can inhabit.

I thought about that question as I was detoured away from the path I was riding on the Brooklyn side of Gateway National Park.

Look at the right side.  Then look at the left.  Then show this to someone who doesn't believe climate change has anything to do with burning stuff.

There'd been a brush fire along the shore of Jamaica Bay.  Flatbush Avenue, which the trail parallels, was closed to vehicular traffic.  We, cyclists, were diverted across the avenue onto the Greenway that skirts the South Shore of Brooklyn to the Canarsie Pier.  

Then I rode back home--into the wind, all the way, on Tosca, my fixed gear.  She was lively, but after a while, I wasn't.  But she got me home.   There were more reports of the massacre on the radio.  No news, except that a hospital spokesperson admitted that some of the 53 wounded would join the 50 who died in the Pulse nightclub.  


  1. This sort of thing beats you down in spirit. The older I get the more world weary I am becoming. I used to be quite religious at one time but as I get older organised religions of all stripes are beginning to disgust me. Someone says "my god is better than your god" and if you don't agree he'll kill you. Isn't this just the adult version of the old playground argument of 'my dad can beat up your dad", a favorite of school boys everywhere. I'm beginning to feel that humanity is little more than a virus to the planet and that soon we'll be eliminated, most likely by our own hand. I suppose this latest outrage will prompt a call for more gun control but in my heart of hearts I know this won't help. Criminals and nuts never seem to have much problem getting hold of weapons no matter the restrictions. If gun control worked New York, Chicago and DC would be the safest places on earth. They are not. What needs an adjustment here is the nut hanging off the end of the rifle. That's going to be a lot harder.

  2. Justine,

    What you say is not counterintuitive. Cycling is a very good aid to meditation, both in the Western sense of concentrating on some thought, and in a Buddhist sense of emptying the mind and non-grasping of thoughts. We have to deal with all this. But let us not dwell on it.

    Perhaps now more than usual we need something light, something to lead us out of this for a while, something stabilizing. Something to begin to put the world together again. We will not forget.

    In my previous comment, I typed "sympathetic" twice, but it kept snapping back to that weird spelling. I see it actually was sent off in that form. Auto-correct is the invention of the devil!

    Leo, ex-pat

  3. Phillip--Your comparison between the religious and schoolyard games is apt. Nobody wins at either.

    Leo--"Auto correct is the invention of the devil!" So true!