In late September, my son’s friend Will got a supercool mountain bike for his 12th birthday. A few weeks later, a man stole it from Will as he was biking with friends.
Our parent community was dumbfounded and aggrieved that an adult could inflict such suffering on a child. Will’s parents reported the loss to the police, registered with the requisite bike theft databases, and posted on Nextdoor.com, where a public outcry accumulated fast and furious in the comments.
As he tried to comprehend what had happened to his friend, my son’s belief that adults’ collective purpose is to keep him safe split its seam. This newly-minted middle schooler was initiated into a new truth about the human experience: bad things can happen at any moment, even at the hands of adults.
I could leave you there, with my son’s grief and his friend’s. With the fact that there is little certainty in life, despite our careful planning, organizing, and preventative protections. With the painful truth that not every adult is trustworthy, that not every trail is safe for play. That there are people so desperate for money or food that stealing a bike might feel like their only option.
But then this happened.
Will’s parents created flyers about the stolen bike. They prepared bags of socks, masks, granola bars, and hand sanitizer. They canvassed the trail where the bike was taken, talking to the many people living there in tents. They offered their gifts of compassion and hope along with the flyer and request for help.
This trail-side community was as shocked and angered as the online chorus that an adult would steal a child’s bike this way.
“We’ll have it back to you in 24 hours,” they said. And that’s exactly what happened.
Through this extraordinary series of events, an extended web of community that might never have mingled was stitched a bit closer together in the collective effort it took to solve the problem of Will’s stolen bike.
I like to tell my students—and now my son—“If you don’t like the way the story ends, keep writing.” That’s what Will’s family did. They didn’t let the story end with their son being a victim robbed of his bike. Instead of contracting in anger, they expanded in generosity. The people they engaged with responded in kind.
This is resilience. Finding a way to let what hurts us stretch our hearts and our capacity to have compassion for ourselves and each other. Trusting that this is the natural course of things.
Even if Will’s bike hadn’t been recovered, his family had taken responsibility for their recovery. I believe this was the pivotal choice. As a result, Will (and his fortunate friends) saw that when bad things happen, empowering choices can be made. No one can rob us of these choices.
Will’s lost-then-found bike is a good reminder that when we are willing to stay with ourselves through a difficult experience, anything is possible. As long as we are alive, the story keeps unfolding, and we get to choose whether we focus on the bike being stolen, or what we’re going to do to get it back. We can focus on the frightening man who took it, or the generous people who returned it.
Our point of focus doesn’t change the facts. But it can have a mighty influence on how we feel about the facts – and what we choose to do and say next.
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