Monday, April 16, 2007

The Escape Artist

Over the Easter break I read The Escape Artist by Matt Seaton. It's a book about cycling, about racing, but it's a book about life. Seaton traces his life through the lens of his relationship with bikes and with Ruth, who becomes his wife. While their two children are still small, Ruth dies. It's utterly sad and poignant, and the cycling that is so important to the author is brought into a sudden and new perspective. Two passages, standing either side of his wife's illness and death, stood out in stark contrast. In the first, Seaton recalls a conversation...
Defeat can be only in the mind, the Channel swimmer insisted, because there is nothing the body will not do, given the will to drive it. The body is a beautiful machine, he said, gazing away into the hazy distance...I knew exactly what he meant. Cycling had taught me to think of my body as a machine.
Then, afterwards...

I cycled more within myself. I would still ride the hills, but at a more gentle tempo. I did not want to hurt myself for some abstract ideal of fitness...Physical existence now appeared a relatively fragile fact, not to be relied upon; I would not abuse my body like an engine, a machine made only to be driven hard.

Seaton's discovery happened in a heartbreaking manner. We all tend to shut our eyes to our own weakness, and to a world of fragility and suffering. We need to make sure they are open.