A few nights ago, I took a ride on my bike. Alone. In the dark. Through a wooded path.
In case this fact doesn’t upset or scare you, I will remind you: I am not a man.
And guess what? Nothing happened.
Well, something happened.
Before that, every woman I work with offered me a ride home on my way out the door from work. They were all afraid for me to ride my bike home. I don’t mean to suggest that this was not nice (it definitely was), but primarily it was discouraging.
As I walked out and got on my bike, I did feel trepidation. Sometimes I think it is hard to make sure that modes of caring for each other do not to turn in to echo chambers that amplify our fears and hurts from the wider world. After everyone tells you to be scared, it is hard not to be scared.
Once on my bike, the path was empty, and after a certain distance, I entered a wooded area that was dark and it was hard to see. My light was not working and I had to practically stop. I started to breathe too hard. I started to feel afraid in the dark. I started to feel afraid of the dark itself. I worried about what was in the bushes. But then I started to control my fear and I knew that it was only small animals in the bushes being disturbed by my bike in the bushes. I knew that without a light my eyes would adjust to the dark place and I would see different things. Moving at a snail’s pace, I could smell the leaves and hear the trees, in addition to the nearby traffic. I could hear the river. I could focus on feeling my cold breath. If I could control my fear, I could have a wonderful bike ride on a wooded path, no more likely to be attacked by the “crazies” (or just men)–my coworkers’ fear–than anywhere else in this beautiful and terrible world. If I could control my fear, I would be free to enjoy the world as it is.
Because the reality is, I am vulnerable to harassment by men in daylight or in darkness, in the woods or in my workplace, whether strangers or men I know. I am not denying this reality, yet I do not want to overstate it either. And if I refuse to overstate and let it control me, I can be free to enjoy a quiet solo winter bike ride home in the evening. And wow, that freedom felt as good! and as complicated as any other.
Even as I began to really enjoy my ride, I knew that almost no one in my life would approve of this ride. They would want me to turn back, they would want me to make “safer” choices; they would want to come rescue me from the woods. But what do we sacrifice when we continually choose safety over wildness? What do we lose when we share our fear with each other but never our courage? How will we teach each other to be free?