Suzanne Rumsey recalls a cycling trip she took in 2010 and how some of the lessons she learned on the road can help us today.
“ARE WE THERE YET?”
Do you remember that question, yelled from the back of the car when you were a kid – or when your kids were kids – on a family road trip? Usually it was followed by, “HOW MUCH FURTHER?” and “I HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM – NOW!”
My parents’ diversionary tactics in the face of such verbal onslaughts from me and my three siblings included, “It’s just around the next corner,” though which next corner was never detailed, or “Who has the Lifesavers? Someone pass around the Lifesavers” or “How about another game of I Spy with My Little Eye?”
I joined PWRDF (Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund) in 2001 as the Latin America/Caribbean program coordinator. In 2010, changes at PWRDF brought a change in my work as I took up the role of public engagement coordinator. 2010 was also a General Synod year at which PWRDF wrapped up the anniversary celebrations marking its 50-year “road trip” as the official development and relief agency of the Anglican Church of Canada.
And so, as my contribution to the celebrations and to meet some of the Anglicans I would be working with in my new role, I proposed that I take a road trip from General Synod in Halifax, through Springhill, Nova Scotia, site of the 1958 mine disaster that precipitated the creation of PWRDF, to St. Anne-de-Bellevue, a Montreal suburb and site of General Synod 1959, where PWRDF officially came into being. This 1,400 km road trip was dubbed “Le Tour de PWRDF” because it involved me and my trusty road bike, Olive, named for my grandmother.
I rode alone but met and stayed and shared the story of PWRDF and its partners around the world, with folk in Anglican parishes along the way. It was an amazing experience on all sorts of levels. Recently, I pulled out the daily blog entries and photos that were posted on the PWRDF website. So many good memories. My final blog entry contained 20 learnings I had along the way. Here are a few of them:
Always a hill
“There is always a hill at the end of the day! And in the case of the route from Charny to Thetford Mines in Québec, there are six hills! Once I had committed to cycling up a hill, there was generally no other choice but to get to the top without stopping, especially because I was cycling with clip-on shoes/pedals. Unless I could be really sure that there was no traffic coming over the crest of the hill, there was no turning across the road to get enough glide to unclip. So, it was pedal or fall over! Physical limits are what we make of them. And now I have legs of steel.”
Canadians are friendly
“Canadians are friendly and helpful in both official languages. Whenever I asked for directions, I always got helpful (!) responses, and when I explained that I spoke only a little French, the person I was speaking with would usually just smile, nod and carry on in rapid-fire Québécois! Canadian Anglicans are equally friendly and hospitable. I had more good parish and home-cooked meals than I can count, not to mention good, hot showers and comfy beds.”
Time for a shower
“It is never impolite to warmly greet one’s hosts and then immediately request a shower, as in, “Hello, it’s very nice to meet you. Could I have a shower? No really, you want me to have a shower!”
Spaciousness opens up
“The relationship between time and distance is different when you are on a bike. It took me a day to cycle 100 km, the distance it would normally take an hour or so to drive in a car. And so time slowed down, the intensity of the urban life I lead in Toronto diminished, and a certain spaciousness opened up. That was such a gift. That and time to think, but interestingly, it wasn’t the deep thinking I thought I might do about moving forward into a new job at PWRDF, or other changes-in-life themes. It was more thinking about how my body was feeling (‘Man, my butt hurts.’), what I would have to eat on my next break (‘Hmmm, energy bar or muffin?’), how amazing the eagle and the eagle’s nest I just stopped and took a photo of looked, and who I might be meeting down the road.”
A good news story
“The (now former) Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, often describes PWRDF as one of the good news stories of the Anglican Church of Canada. I learned that indeed it is. And it is good news because Anglicans in parishes large and small across this country support PWRDF and the work of our partners in many creative and meaningful ways. An organization doesn’t get to celebrate its 50th birthday without the steadfast commitment of many, many people, some of whom I had the privilege to meet along the way.”
In the writings of the Apostle Paul, we also encounter a road trip. In his letters to early Christian communities, he too responds to the question, “ARE WE THERE YET?” as he and the early churches faced a time horizon of Christ’s return that went from being “just around the next corner” to an ever more distant future. Paul’s message: Live like Christ in faithful community in the here and now and in the midst of Empire.
The road trip we are on now called COVID-19 has us asking the same question, “ARE WE THERE YET?” Our physical, mental and emotional limits are being tested in ways they never have before. We don’t know how many more corners there will be, how many hills we will still have to climb. But we have one another and, to quote the great theologian Mr. Rogers, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people helping.”
Whether it is Paul to the early church, my parents with their endless patience and stash of Lifesavers on childhood road trips, the communities of faithful Anglicans and PWRDF supporters I met on Le Tour de PWRDF or health care leaders like Dr. Bonnie Henry who encourage us to “Be kind. Be calm. Be safe,” it is people – helpers, in relationship – who will see us to the end of the road trip.