John Laird: Election-related tensions can be buried in autumn leaves




Camaraderie seems to be in short supply these days as tensions tighten leading up to Tuesday’s big election.

Car pool commutes are quieter. Facebook friends have been unfriended or unsubscribed to because of their political posts. Around prayer circles, requests for cares and concerns trigger thoughts about the election, but then each believer inwardly decides, “Better not go there.”

Conversations over back fences seem shorter. Garage doors rise more quickly, cars slide inside more briskly, and the doors descend more resolutely, so as to reclose the cocoons of privacy.

Not to worry, though. Strained relationships are one of the costs of free elections in a free society. To a large extent, this strife is seasonal. Granted, the candle of contention won’t be snuffed out Tuesday night. Wednesday will dawn with more squabbles about counting and recounting votes, with winners expertly accepting credit, losers desperately deflecting blame, and pundits pontificating.

But many Americans after Tuesday will unwrap themselves from around the political axle, loosen the nooses from around the hanging chairs, return to their normal lives and rediscover the comforts of camaraderie.

Thursday afternoon I temporarily excused myself from politics and sought relief where I’ve always found it: at the nearest park. On the way, I heard the cheerful chatter of 10 bicyclists, five of them piloting tandem bicycles, with five co-pilots each pedaling in concert with the partner.

They stopped for a break at Esther Short Park’s clock tower (two other teams arrived earlier), and as I approached the group, I knew their affiliation by their vests. These were the tandem bicycle riders of the Washington State School for the Blind.

I spoke with volunteer Steve Rosvold, a local financial planner, and he agreed to a telephone interview on Friday. That’s when I learned that Thursday’s ride was a milestone: the 11,000th mile for the WSSB tandem bicycling program over 16 years. Supported by several local bicycle shops and volunteer organizers, the pilots and the “stokers” (they provide much of the power) ride weekly during the fall and spring, and a few times each summer. Thursday they pedaled about nine miles. (If you’d like to volunteer or donate to the WSSB program, contact the school.)

Resuming my Thursday walk, I savored sensory blessings around me: 63 degrees, not a breath of wind, no rain and a multicolored carpet of autumn leaves to soften each step. I walked the park’s inner circle, paused, smiled and remembered that I’m coming up on 10 years in Clark County. In many ways, these have been the 10 happiest years. Abruptly, though, my reverie was interrupted by the tandem bicyclists buzzing by, resuming their ride, chattering cheerfully again. I studied them closely, noticing how their shared need kept each duo pedaling fiercely but harmoniously.

Different gifts involved

The volunteers relied on vision skills, but the students were able to hear, feel, taste and smell the ride in more highly developed ways that enhanced their trip.

Then I thought of the courage these students had shown. Many had never been on a bicycle before starting the program. The balancing skills that are necessary, the unfamiliarity with the pedals and the power that’s needed, the speed, all compounded by the complexities of tandem-bike riding … it can be terrifying. If you want to understand what these students go through, put on a blindfold and climb on a bicycle built for two. Good luck. Most WSSB tandem-bike volunteer pilots have been through this test, and they’ll vouch for its difficulty. Teamwork is a must.

Maybe, instead of politicians trying to resolve disagreements with beer summits or rounds of golf, they should just hop on some tandem bikes. The compulsory symbiosis could work wonders.

In the meantime, I’m thankful for the lesson learned on a crisp autumn afternoon in the park. Sometimes it takes visually impaired strangers to help you see the blessings in your world.