January 28, 2015 • 5 minute read • by Saeed
“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”
– Albert Einstein –
First, I am okay. Thanks for asking. The occasional bruise and bump comes with the territory when you are a motrocycle enthusiast. I expect that.
What I do not expect is to become more enlightened about work and life. On this particular occasion, the crash set off a series of encounters with bystanders, the police, the tow truck driver, the motorcycle mechanic and the young father I met on the bus ride home that would each reinforce valuable and profound lessons about work and life.
Lesson #1: When you help others you help yourself.
I don’t like to be late so I left the house early. I had volunteered to help a local nonprofit that works on issues I care about. I did not know where it would all go. Maybe somewhere, maybe nowhere. What I absolutely did not expect was that I would end up volunteering to contribute not based on my knowledge but based on my passion. I can replicate what I plan to do for this organization for many other organizations struggling with similar issues. I can provide value based on my passion and I realized the truism that when you help others, you help yourself, is well…true.
Lesson #2: The universe is talking to you if you care to listen.
When we made the late afternoon appointment to meet, my counterpart was concerned that I would get caught in commuter traffic on the way home. I assured her that I would not since I would be riding my beloved Kawasaki W650 (pictured), which I polish daily with unicorn fur. This is my third motorcycle and I have owned this one for nearly three years. I consider myself a fairly experienced rider. I could sense her fear of motorcycles on the phone. She cautioned me to be cautious. She said: “Make sure you are wearing your helmet.” In California, it’s the law so I assured her that I would be but in a moment of misplaced bravado I also said that I probably wouldn’t be if it wasn’t the law. It was right after I left the meeting with her that I crashed the bike.
Thank you Deborah. Your concern was prescient.
Lesson #3: The human race isn’t defined by its worst elements.
None of the vehicles in the accident had made contact with each other. Three car lengths ahead someone slammed on their brakes causing a chain reaction to the rear. The Kawasaki W650 is a beautiful machine but it does not come equipped with anti-lock brakes. So when I slammed on mine, I locked up the front wheel and laid down the bike to avoid hitting the car in front of me. In an instant, I was on the ground with a heap of metal on top of me. I have since lost count of the multitude of people who rushed to my aid. The motorcycle was lifted off of me before I knew it; someone else pushed it to the side of the road and everyone that passed by expressed kindness and concern. The best was an elderly gentleman and his wife who were in the car behind me when the accident happened. They pulled over to offer me a ride to the hospital and would not leave until they were 100% sure I was okay.
Thank you Tom. Your kindness was moving.
Lesson #3: Judge individuals by their merit, not by their rank.
The cops usually show up to accident scenes when there are injuries or when someone requests a police report for insurance purposes. Before long, one showed up and I thought, here we go, this is more hassle than I need right now. But he soon left after making sure everyone was alright and determining no reports were needed. So did everyone else. The scene was suddenly devoid of the earlier clamor and I was left alone with a bike that wouldn’t start and my calculations of how much this little bang-up was going to cost me. I called AAA and waited by the side of the road sending work-related emails on my phone. Suddenly, I saw the officer coming back. It turns out he was a motorcycle enthusiast and he just wanted to keep me company while I waited for my tow. We started talking about motorcycles and he told me about the one he owned that he had ridden to Mexico a few years back. The journalist trapped inside of me suddenly shifted the conversation. “Officer,” I said, “may I ask you something?” “Sure,” he replied. “As an African-American police officer, how do you feel about the police shootings and protests that have dominated the headlines this year?” The next few moments of conversation were the most enlightening I have had about race relations and community policing in the United States.
Thank you Mark. Your candor was refreshing.
Lesson #4: Optimism trumps adversity.
The tow truck driver was a surly and easy going man in his 30s. Another motorcycle enthusiast, at first he tried to fix my bike. Having failed, he mounted it on the truck with the help of the police officer. On the ride to the only mechanic shop I could find open, I learned that in 2001 he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and told he had three months to live. Nearly 15 years later, he is healthy and vibrant. In asking what got him through the ordeal, he replied: “I’ve always had a positive outlook on life.” I asked about his personal life and what his girlfriend does for a living. “She doesn’t work,” he said, “she is agoraphobic and can’t leave the house.” I imagined a life of burden but I was wrong. “We are very happy together,” he said. “We plan to move to Iceland,” he added. “Why Iceland,” I asked. “Because of global warming and because there was only one murder there in 2104 and also because my girlfriend has family there,” he replied. Of course, I wondered how they would survive. “What will you do for a living?” I asked, to which he confidently replied: “I am a tow truck driver. Wherever there are cars in the world, I can get a job.” After dropping me off at the motorcycle shop he offered to wait to take me home but I declined out of consideration. I reached into my pocket and took out what cash I had left to offer him a tip and he declined out of consideration: “You’ll need it for the ride home,” he said.
Thank you Bobby. Your resilience and optimism was inspiring.
Lesson #5: Do what you love, love what you do.
My regular mechanic shop was closed. I love this shop and I refuse to take my bike anywhere else. The X factor with the two gentlemen who own the shop is that one of them is a former economist and the other a physicist. They traded their life in academia for doing what they love and for what makes them happy – turning wrenches on bikes. I’ve been taking my bike there for years and never thought I’d go anywhere else. But today, the only shop I could find open was in the middle of the crack infested neighborhood in San Francisco called the Tenderloin.
The shop owner greeted me when we arrived and he immediately recognized my bike with a sense of affection. “I have two of these myself,” he said. I was delighted. He knows how to work on my bike, I thought. After a quick inspection and reassurance, we got into a conversation. He had come over as a refugee from Vietnam spending the initial years in a refugee camp in the Philippines separated from his family. When he finally made it to the US, he started life as a janitor in a motorcycle dealership before learning how to work on the bikes himself. He saved money, was reunited with his family and after 30 years of hard work, he retired as the head mechanic of the dealership. It wasn’t exactly retirement though. He told me that after the 2008 global economic crisis, the dealership was facing layoffs. With the support of his wife and children they decided to risk everything and put all their hard earned savings into buying the motorcycle repair shop. He was 53 at the time but he has never looked back. “We are not rich,” he said, “but we are happy.”
Thank you Adam. You are an example that perseverance pays off. You are also my new motorcycle mechanic.
Lesson #6: Strive to be of value.
I left the motorcycle shop with the intention to Uber my way home. No chance. First, I couldn’t use the damn app and second, when I did figure it out, the fare turned out to be three times the normal rate because it was rush hour. So much for new technology. I thought about calling friends but decided to take the bus instead. On the bus, I thought I’d make a few calls to pass the time but by now, my cell phone battery was drained. I was staring out the window thinking about my day when we came to the next station and the doors swung open. A young man and woman pushing a baby stroller boarded and sat next to me. Once again, the restless journalist in me reared its inquisitive head. I discovered that Anton and his girlfriend were not married. Their daughter was ten months old and he had a two year old son from another relationship. His ex girlfriend would not let him see his son. Anton told me that he never saw his own father and he did not want this to happen to his son.
I have been in the nonprofit sector for 20 years. I know the landscape well. I began to coach Anton on the community resources available that could give him support and put him on the track to re-establishing a relationship with his son. By the end of the journey, Anton said to me: “I know there is a reason why God put me on the bus with you today.” He took my name and number and I disembarked the bus with a feeling of fulfillment.
Thank you Anton. I think there is a reason why we met too.
It may be a cliché but life is mysterious and wonderful. Something that may seem like a catastrophe at first, could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Today was a beautiful day. I met people that inspired me and I walked away from a motorcycle accident with my faith in humanity (and my body) intact. I am sure that these encounters have a deeper meaning than I even realize now.
For the most part, I like many other people, am too busy with life, always rushing to get someplace, minding my own business along the way. It is good to be reminded that sometimes you need to slow down, look up, embrace the kindness of strangers, suspend assumptions and judgments, do the work you love, and open your mind, heart and eyes to the everyday magic that is all around you.