Today, I’m a pretty confident dude, athletic, witty and easy going, much as I was prior to April 9, 2003. From that point, however, up until about a year ago, really, I was on the outside looking in, searching for like-minded individuals to interact with – not an easy task, given my cluttered and scrambled mind.
In the first couple years after my release from the G.F Strong Rehabilitation Centre, I had a completely blank slate to work with. Whether focusing on rehab in my hometown, or returning to university, I was now relatively unknown and therefore free to present any front I wanted. For some, this is a wonderful, redemptive opportunity and under other circumstances I may have seen it as such, but as it was, this was more obstacle than opportunity for me. Social circles are frustratingly difficult to penetrate at the best of times, and showing up fresh from death with a severely damaged brain is certainly not the best of times. During a span of five years or so, having lost most of what I built my identity around, I didn’t know where I fit amongst my peers. Without close, trusted friends to relate with, I turned to mere acquaintances to determine what was popular, cool, and worth pursuing. Most regrettably, I allowed near-strangers dictate what I did, what I wore, and how I acted.
Gaining acceptance into new social circles, like anything that requires hard work and perseverance, can be more easily attained through forgery and fraud. With a little work, and a little denial, we can come across however we want to – I know I can. If the group appears to favour a certain characteristic, I can probably put together a convincing act that echoes their sentiment. Fashion preferences? Easy – all it takes is some room on the VISA and a keen eye or, even easier, the names of stores the others shopped at. Choice of vehicle, extra-curricular activities, goals – all these things can be faked yet they will all be a hit with said group. For many people, this is the goal realized. They are “in“, accepted and, ideally, a little envied by others in the group. They have reached the upper echelons of approval and success, as defined by the other players. They joined the game, played along, and won.
But for some, one thing remains, a caveat that prevents us from joining in the all-out pursuit of acceptance. Some call it personal conviction, others would describe it as integrity, and still others will label it a buzz-kill. This qualifier is the bottom line, the absolute furthest we will go to make a good impression to gain acceptance. Beyond that point we are no longer true to ourselves, and the value of being true to ourselves must always measure higher than the value of being accepted by any individual or group. Fortunately, these two are not always mutually exclusive.
I didn’t own any bicycles when I started working at the bike shop last year, and I had not ridden a bike in fifteen years or so. Now I own two bikes, with plans for a third (a winter commuter – it’s a real thing, honest), and I find myself putting more time, energy, and money into bicycle-related endeavours. This behaviour and value shift, I readily admit, wouldn’t have occurred had I not got in with the shop. What makes this shift a beneficial and edifying one is that it never conflicted with my bottom line. I did not have to change who I was, or what I was about, to get into cycling. In fact, the longer I do it, the more I see it as an expression and extension of my values, goals, and priorities.
After years of trying to find a group of people to belong with, I found one. Sure, they’ve influenced me, but I exert a certain influence too – after all, I’m their mechanic.