So, we’re lining up for the annual blessing of the bikes-and-more... and I get to be at the back, beside a super exuberant preschooler. The kid is excitedly doing little spins, and his mother is sorta trying to control him but not really. On the one hand, he is biking around the sanctuary mid-service… but on the other hand, he’s doing it very quietly, so she pretty much calls that a win. Good call.
Eventually, the mom convinces the kid to come stand beside us with his bike, between me and a guy who is grinning at the kid. Seized by impulse, the guy reaches down to the clown horn (the kind with the plastic bulb with air in it), gives it a quick and playful squeeze, and grins at the kid.
During the following interaction, no words are spoken. It was, after all, mid ceremony in the blessing, so everyone was trying to act a bit reverent. For the purposes of posterity, I will translate their facial expressions into words for you.
Guy: Cool, eh?
Kid: Oh wow! It certainly is cool! I can’t believe I forgot about my horn!
Mother <looking at the guy>: AAAAHHHH!!! WHAT THE **&&*^ IS THE MATTER WITH YOU? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE???
Kid: I’m gonna honk this and honk this and honk this, and….
Guy: Oh crap. What the &(*^*(( is the MATTER WITH ME FOR ME? WHAT HAVE I DONE???
Kid: And I’m gonna… hey! Why are you trying to keep me from honking my horn? YOU ARE THE MEANEST MOTHER ON THE HISTORY OF THE PLANET.
Mother: Shh. We must be quiet in church. People don’t want the service interrupted by a clown horn.
Kid: Sure they do. Services are boring, and clown horns are AWESOME. Everyone loves it so much that they all turn around to look, see? I will smile and wave at them…
At this point, the mother has the genius idea of yanking the little rubber bulb off of the end of the horn, so it is just the squeaker.
The kid stares at her. Then, he stares down in shock at his decapitated bike horn.
Kid: You. Are. Horrible.
I expect a full on tantrum, but the kid is now just staring intently down at the horn. The whole range of human grief runs across his face. Loss, anger, a growing awareness of injustice… I brace myself for a loud wail.
But instead of screaming, the kid just trails his finger along the wounded horn, in the place where the beautiful red bulb used to sit. Then, he leans forward slowly. For a moment, because of the setting and the ritual, he looks to me like he is bowing to it, in reverence.
Then, I realize that he is kissing the horn better. He leans forward and delicately places his lips to the spot where the bulb has been torn off of the horn, and I catch my breath for this sacred moment.
Oh wait. He is not kissing anything.
The kid takes a deep breath, fixes his lips to the remaining half of the horn, and blows hard.
You see, it is not a broken horn. It is just a horn that needs to get it’s air in a new way.
The horn blares loudly. Really loudly. Turns out, this kid's lungs are a lot bigger than the red bulb was.
The kid’s face breaks open with the widest grin you have ever seen in your life.
Kid: MOM—I FIXED IT!!! HEY EVERYBODY IT’S OKAY DON’T WORRY I FIXED IT!!! Let me show you—
Mercifully, the blessers come by at about this point, and the kid is distracted by them, as they sprinkle water on his handlebars with their colourful pop pom thing-ey. But this bike does not need their pop pom thingey blessing. It has already been blessed by joy, ingenuity, and a good set of lungs.
Then it is my turn, and then another bike, and then a woman with a visual impairment who offers her cane to be blessed. A few people before me, there was a walker.
A few years ago, we did not think to explicitly bless more than the bikes. A few years ago, I didn’t really think about people whose legs didn’t work like mine. And if I had, I wouldn’t have thought to bless a wheelchair. I would have thought of a wheelchair as a device of imprisonment. Now, I imagine it as a tool of liberation. I remember so clearly that feeling I had—when I was not much older than this kid—of “finding my wheels”… the whole neighbourhood brought within the grasp of my newly peddling feet.
A few years ago, I realized it is *bodies* that imprison people, and that wheelchairs that set them free.
Until I learned that that’s not really true, either.
Bodies are just bodies, a friend who uses a scooter explained to me. It’s not that some are broken and some aren’t, it’s just that we all need different things to move through the world. Like the kid looked at his bike horn and saw that it wasn’t broken, it just needed to get air in a different way.
Physical needs, and social needs, too… things like using words that bring people in. Inviting all the wheels (and a cane) to come be blessed.
My friend is usually super kind and super patient when explaining this stuff. Occasionally, when that’s not working, though, Theresa does it in an interrupt-ey way. In a bike-horn-in-the-service way. In the kind of way that makes people try to do whatever they can to remove the red bulb so things will be smooth again.
I want to tell you that my friend is unmoved by this, but that’s not true. I have seen all the same anger, loss, and growing sense of injustice that flitted across this kid’s tiny face also show up on Theresa’s. I have seen Theresa bowed down by this fight.
This week, at a big conference in the US, a bunch of my friends attended services with new words in the hymns. New words that were brought by a whole lot of polite asking and some bike-horn-in-the-service moments, and some awkwardness and some learning.
When I see those words appearing on the photographs in my facebook feed, I think of our not-just-bike-blessing. About how I used to just think about biking, but now, I think about more things. When you add the walker, and the cane, I think about all the ways we move through the world and how we are set free. How we stand in each other’s way, and how we get out of the way. How, in practice, we usually do both of these things… like in this moment, where we’re worshipping in a sanctuary that we haven’t yet managed to find a way to make fully accessible, but looking for ways to move forward anyway.
I think about the kid who knew the horn wasn’t broken, it just needed to get air in a different way.
I think about how much more meaning I am carrying away from this blessing of the wheels than I ever carried from the older, simpler, narrower ritual.
I think about Theresa. And about this kid, and his bike, and his horn. And all the things that are blessed by joy, ingenuity, and a good set of lungs.
You can see more of Theresa's writing on Medium here!
One of my favourite videos of Theresa is this one, where she talks about language...