WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD WOLF?
Little Red Riding Hood carefully prepared her basket of 100% whole-wheat rolls, calcium supplements, an all-natural energy drink and some organic sushi for her grandmother. She secured her vibrant red cape around her neck, hopped on her bicycle, and headed through the woods to brighten the day and lighten the load of the elderly matriarch. As little Red peddled out into traffic heading toward grannies house she noticed other women riders trailing feather boas, mini hula skirts, and pink jerseys. Turns out the riders were moms, cancer survivors, daughters, team riders, professional athletes, and a host of other female descriptors. They rode slow, they road fast, they chatted, they stopped at rest stops, they rode singly and in groups.
Red Riding Hood discovered she had barged into the middle of a non-competitive cycling event –the only women-only century in the country. Though she was very interested in the women she met and the ride that looped through rural and county roads, she cut out early at the turn-off to her grandmother’s. She didn’t get the groovy t-shirt, because of course, she hadn’t registered for the ride.
Just before she turned off she saw a dark brown blur from the corner of her eye. She turned to see what had darted across the path, but not before a peloton of 10 women riders rode over the top of what Red recognized as a wolf. Hmmm, she thought, “I wonder what a wolf is doing out in this part of town.” And with her cape billowing behind her she dodged a rock and rode toward grandmas for a little generational bonding.
As Red wove into her grandmother’s drive she noticed there were quite a number of other vehicles. A moped, a tandem bike, two cars, a pickup and a Jesus truck. The later was a local truck with pictures of Jesus pasted all over it and quoted scriptures prophesying the importance of loving your neighbor. It was a neighborhood anomaly. As she stood her bike against the wall she realized her grandmother’s group for the Coalition for the Protection of Animals was mid-meeting and she probably wasn’t going to get much time with her grandmother. I guess there isn’t going to be time for a game of scrabble tonight, she mused.
As she was about to knock on the door, she thought better of it and just turned the knob, and walked in. The door swung open, smooth and quiet, hitting Darren, a local woodsman from the area. He was a real supporter of Granny, as he often stopped by and had lunch with her while working in the nearby woods. There was no hiding that he felt this group was a little extreme, but he showed up every month, probably for the fresh fruit smoothies granny made for everyone. They were renowned around town.
“Hey Red,” he said, rubbing his arm where the door had smacked him.
“Sorry,” Red whispered. Why are you standing so close to the door? Go sit down.”
“I don’t know how long I’ll be here. There was a wolf sighting earlier this morning and while I don’t want to announce it to this group, I may have to go assist with animal control.”
Red nodded and whispered, “You’re too late. The ladies in the peloton took care of him for you. He’s road kill.”
“What?” Darren looked at her askance. “The wolf is dead, out on the road?”
“Yup. I don’t mean to sound heartless, but pretty sure it’s seen its day. Those bikers didn’t even slow down.”
“Hmmmm,” Darren said, looking thoughtful. “I guess that takes care of that. What have you got in that basket?”
“It’s not for you,” she scolded as she smacked his hand away from the lid. “This is for granny and you’re not to touch it. What big, snoopy hands you have.”
He looked at her and winked.
How does the story end?
When I was in elementary school I used to love the “choose-your-ending” books. The story would start and every couple of pages you could decide what the protagonist would do. “If he goes into the cave, turn to page 24. If he turns around and goes back, turn to page 28.” And decision by decision you would take the protagonist to the conclusion of the story. Always with a different ending depending upon the choices your protagonist made, or more accurately, the choices that you made for your protagonist. Never mind that my protagonist almost always died, it was a grand adventure to try and create a story that you could only partially control.
Ha! Welcome to real life. Only now the stakes are higher. “If you break off this relationship turn to page 78. If you stay and try to let him work through his abusive behavior turn to page 47. If you invest your life savings in Trump Towers turn to page 5. If you bought real estate in 2007 turn to page 72. If you try heroin just once, turn to page 189. If you choose porn over a real woman turn to page 69. If you spend time with your kids turn to page 32. If you spend more time at work turn to page 44. If you follow your heart instead of your head turn to page 6. If you go to London for the conference turn to page 48. If you rescue that dog from the shelter turn to page 19.
The other day I was headed to my company Christmas party. I have no idea what I was thinking about, but I turned left on a green light just as an SUV blew through the intersection. I didn’t see him until my lights were within inches of his car, and he swerved, fast as lightning, and I felt nothing. I pulled over, he pulled over, there was a black smear so thin I could still see my paint through it on my front bumper, but I’d felt nothing. He was in his late twenties, had a week-old baby in his car, and his wife. We each drove away unharmed. I went to my party. He got his family home safe. But what if he’d been a second slower? What if we’d hit, him going at least 45 MPH? There could have been death. There would have been injury. There could have been totaled vehicles and life as we knew it might have changed completely. To drive off, 10 minutes later with nothing but a black smear on my bumper was a miracle that could have had any number of other endings.
Sometimes I think back on my life and think what if I hadn’t left my first husband? What if we’d stayed together for the kids? He would have missed out on finding his wife and their sweet little son would never have been born. My subsequent marriages wouldn’t have happened, and that would have been a good thing, but I wouldn’t have learned things – had experiences. It’s also probable that we would have lived in some level of misery that neither of us thrived in. Would we have felt brave, or cowardly for not leaving?
It gets complex really fast. Complex beyond what we can imagine because relationships create other people who have impact that changes the world, relationships create connections and new life trajectories. Choices lead to staying put or moving to new places, and the people you meet in those places would never have been a part of your life path, or you a part of there’s if you’d stayed put. Do you? Don’t you? Which choice do you make at the crossroads of your life? What do you choose to experience?
Elisabeth Kubler Ross said, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
In the story told earlier Little Red Riding Hood will never know what it’s like to be eaten by the wolf, because a peloton of bikers chose to run him over before he got into the woods and to grandmother’s house. She will go on to live a life, never knowing how close she came to another experience entirely.
I have no idea what would have happened if my car would have collided with the other gentleman’s on that snowy pre-Christmas night, and I’ll go on living, being grateful for my car and that we are all in one piece, but truly I’ll forget about it soon enough, never knowing what that page might have said.
A few years ago I was riding my road bike and was stopped at a stop light. Right before the light changed my music bleeped out and I stopped to pull out my phone and see what was going on. That five seconds saved my life because without the music blip I would have launched off the line when the light changed and plunged into traffic, just as a man in a huge Dodge truck ran the red light and plowed through the intersection at 60 miles an hour. He would have smashed me between the car on the other side of me and there would have been very little to recover. What if?
As I mentioned earlier, in the choose-your-own-ending stories I always ended up dead. So, I believe my guardian angels are probably working over time, and because of that I have been saved from many a fiasco. There was the time I was dropped 100 feet from a rock climb, but lived. There was the time a drunk driver hit me head on going 65 MPH, and I walked away without injury. There is every time I bike down steep mountain trails and fly over my handle bars, only to get back up and ride another day. Who knows how many times the wolf got killed before he came to my house? Nobody knows.
While there are many things we do not control. There are also many places in our stories where there is no one to make our choices but us. There have been a few times I’ve wished someone else could make the hard choices. That someone else would say, “turn to page 76,” because I’m afraid of making that call. But in the end, we get to choose our own endings, and we do that every day with the decisions we make. And, just like we talk about in episode 8, it’s gonna be messy. There’s no way around that, but we become the “beautiful people” that Kubler Ross talked about earlier, because we get in the arena and we engage in life. We make the best choices we know how to make at the time. We walk into the cave or we walk away. We go into the forest or we chose a different route. But we also get to see ourselves with compassion for those choices that in hindsight seem a lot clearer than they did in the fog of the struggle. A million things can happen to us every day. We get to control some of them, we don’t get to control others. We have no idea how much assistance we are receiving from our guardian angels, and there is no way to know about the “What-ifs.” But what we do get to do is take responsibility for our choices. We get to choose big and exciting options, we get to be brave and sometimes foolhardy. We get to turn the page and see what happens, and when we make choices we regret, we get to show compassion for ourselves in that past moment, knowing we did the best we could and then try again.
Real big-boy and big-girl life is a choose-your-own-ending storybook. You are the protagonist. You make the choices. You take responsibility for those choices, learn from them, love yourself through the bad ones, and think big! Create your own adventure. Don’t be afraid of the big, bad wolf. We all end up dead in the end anyway.