In every child’s life there is a moment in which he becomes aware of the wider world surrounding him. He experiences the Other for the first time, that overpowering sense of shock that comes in realizing the existence of other figures outside of his immediate sphere of knowledge. Such a moment profoundly alters a person’s life. He can become a xenophobe, withdrawing from his place in the wider world in search of a homogenous stagnation that precludes any measure of change, or he can find a place for himself in the world, reveling in the sheer majesty of the diversity present all around him, growing as an individual amidst the glory of Creation.
My own rite of passage into this wider world of heady splendor was experienced on the back of a motorcycle. At the end of seventh grade, my grandfather rode back into my life after a long absence and decided to cement his newly-conceived bond between grandfather and grandson with a motorcycle trip to upstate New York. He would take me to a biker rally and expose me to the scenery of the beautiful countryside.
Despite some initial misgivings I quickly agreed to embark on this journey with my mysterious grandfather. I would become closer to a person I hadn’t seen for years, would get out of school, and would have done something that none of my friends could ever top.
After several months of planning and preparation (it was difficult to find a helmet that could fit my head, after all), we left early one morning in late June. As I left my small town behind, I began to get the feel for riding a motorcycle. Rolling along with the curves, I learned early on that the only way to stay on was to go with the flow; resistance was a sure path to falling off. Once this important fact was drilled into my head, I was able to relax, sit back in my chair, and rest my arms comfortably against the side railings, able to take in the tremendous view that was spread out before my eyes.
Biking may be the best way to get in touch with nature. With nothing separating me from the vistas I was viewing, I was thrust headlong into the wilderness that we were driving past. I sat on the back of that Honda motorcycle for hours, simply admiring the mountains we were traveling over and taking in the exquisite details of the landscape. I became aware of nature’s natural beauty and began to develop a biker’s refined aesthetic sense. The little waterfalls in the countryside of Vermont, the small farms that dotted New York’s landscape, the sheer size of the Delaware Water Gap all conspired together to open my eyes to the overwhelming intensity of the greater world around me, a world in which seemingly disparate elements come together to form fantastic images that could warm the coldest person’s heart.
Besides taking in the view, I was also busy doing what I do best: talking. A new and exotic person was before me in the shape of my grandfather, and I was eager to pick his brain of any useful wisdom I could find. It is in these discussions, held in such incongruous settings as on the back of a motorcycle and at the table of a small Italian restaurant in Lake George, that I first began honing my mind to grapple social and political philosophies. This man, who had lived in many different places, had held many jobs, and had gone through at least four wives was chock-full of ideas for our society. Through our debates he inscribed in me some of the chief tenants of his school of thought: self-sufficiency, small government, and civil libertarianism. His arguments made sense to me and stimulated a great interest in national and foreign affairs, an interest I still retain today. He taught me to constantly question my beliefs and inspired in me a drive to change the world that was opening up before my eyes.
However, it is the people that I met that changed me the most. During my trip I was exposed to individuals that I had never imagined could even exist. There were the denizens of Margaretville who gathered every morning in their small diner to eat breakfast and talk with their neighbors about the goings on in this out-of-the-way niche in upstate New York. There were Fred and Ethel, two of my grandfather’s friends from Virginia who epitomized the best of Southern culture in their unfailing courtesy and wonderful senses of humor. And most shocking of all, there were the bikers, who were far from the stereotypical tough guys portrayed in the movies. They were a group of both men and women who hailed from as many different lifestyles and backgrounds as possible, from a paper shredder from the Northeast to a machinist born and raised in the South. What united this fascinating subculture was not a similar creed but a shared appreciation of nature and the many ways in which beauty is manifest. At a biker rally in upstate New York amidst the roars of engines and the loud din of thousands gathered together in search of the perfect bike accessory, I had found the most unlikely group of people imaginable: closet aesthetes that, more than anyone else, opened my mind to our universe’s great diversity.
It was on the back of a motorcycle that I made my transformation from provincial kid to devotee of differences. I had experienced a first taste of the world around me in the hills of New York and the small restaurants of Vermont. I had discovered that diversity is not a curse to be feared but a miracle to be marveled at. I had made the decision between xenophobe and wonderer, and I had wholeheartedly decided to revel in the world that I was just discovering. This awe has shaped my life up to this point and will continue to be a guiding influence in my life, a light to illuminate my path for years to come.