52 Ways to Shift Your Focus: The Gift of Being Unprepared

Shift #49: The Gift of Being Unprepared

On Monday, my son Shawn arrived at my house ready to finally, after several years, clean out his old art studio that takes up one room in our basement. There were drawings and prints and photographs that dated back to his high school years, old paints now unusable, bits of pastels, paintbrushes, rectangles of Plexiglass, frames he’d built, an empty beer bottle or two. The studio had become a receptacle for things that had no home: a Lego keychain with a wizard figure, a tin of old political buttons, a wooden train, a Che Guevara poster.

Shawn, with help from my husband Mick, ruthlessly discarded whatever was no longer useful. But they were careful to look at everything, consider if anyone else might use any of it.

And that’s how Shawn rediscovered my father’s old bicycle bag. I was upstairs with my daughter Abby, who had a no-school day and was battling an unusually high blood sugar (Abby has type 1 diabetes), and my focus was on her instead of my own work. I am always ready to shift gears for Abby. It’s just part of the deal. Shawn wandered up from the depths of the purge to hand me this once-neon-yellow Avenir bag that my father left strapped to his bike frame when he was still riding 10-20 miles a day. Shawn had acquired it after my father realized he could no longer maintain his bike habit thanks to the stroke that robbed him of some of his balance and hearing.

I had not remembered that Shawn had that bike bag. I was completely unprepared for the rush of emotion that engulfed me when I unzipped the bag’s top. Inside was a zip-top plastic bag that held an assortment of bike tire patches and a couple of bike chain links. There was a little tube of rubber cement still in its packaging with the instructions printed on the back. There was another piece of cardboard from a past package for tire patches that had diagrams to demonstrate exactly how to place tire patches. I noticed it said, “Kmart” across the bottom, and remembered that Dad loved Kmart and Walmart and any other discount store where he could find cheap stuff.

The last thing in the plastic bag was a piece of well-used foil wrapped around something in the shape of a stick of gum. I gently undid the foil and found two Curad “ouchless” plastic strips. It struck me in that moment how much my father loved his bike, enough to carry around all sorts of things to take care of a blown tire or broken chain, but only carried these two tiny little bandages in case something happened to his body.

My father’s sense of invincibility never waned. He was prepared to fix his bike, but not prepared to fix himself. It was that very refusal to see himself as frail that kept him on his bicycle until he was 88.

That little piece of foil and its contents, along with everything else in that bike bag, was not what I expected to hang on to at the end of the day. Monday was a weird day with its shifting progression, its unexpected treasures. Had I been prepared for any of it, I would not have been so open to the tide of emotions and memory that flowed through me. And this bit of writing would not have been created.

Being prepared has its advantages. But, sometimes, if we want to make art, being unprepared can be a wonderful thing. I’m so glad my father was both.


8 comments

  1. A snippet, last-minute view, of my mother waving goodbye to me recently inspired a short story for which I won honorable mention. I have not written fiction in decades nor ever entered a short story in a contest. When these moments of real-life grab us as writers, they often later emerge in our writing. Thank you for sharing this touching personal moment, Kathleen.

  2. Oh, Kathleen, what a lovely piece. Lots of emotion on several levels with the purging and then the rediscovery of the bike bag. You're absolutely right about being unprepared allowing us to experience and feel. Thank you so much for sharing this story. xoA


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