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“I can ride my bike with no handlebars, no handlebars, no handlebars” These are the words that I have carefully chosen to be my response when anyone asks me, “what do you plan to do with your life?” A lot of people in my position – high school senior to be – might begin to sweat profusely and let out a faint whimper if asked that question. My own reaction, and my choice of words, is based on a fact that I couldn’t disregard if I tried: It is my imagination and volition, and nothing else, which limit what I can accomplish.

The opening line is taken from the hit song “Handlebars” by the Flobots. Starting off with this line, the lyrics darken, taking the melody and rhythm of that first line and replacing it with ever greater and darker accomplishments, ultimately ending in a crescendo with the line “I can end the planet in a holocaust, in a holocaust, in a holocaust.” Softening down to the original melody, the song repeats the first line, ending with a reminder to the reader of the parallel between the original accomplishment and the last. The song describes how human potential is vast and unlimited, and yet it seems that we channel the majority of it into creating ever more powerful means of destruction.

As a child, like most other children of my age, I would often risk the two second release from the bars, only to find myself wrapping around them just as quickly as I had let go, avoiding a tumultuous and embarrassing careen into a nearby trench at the last split-second. Despite the mediocre achievement, even then I felt such a feeling of accomplishment with the adrenaline rushing through my body. It was always tantamount for the quick glance back at my friends to give that ear-splitting and most thoroughly undeserved grin as a way of flaunting what I had just done.

Not two months ago, cruising down a breezy bike path in Cape Cod with my family (hands firmly positioned at the bars), I saw my cousin up ahead, effortlessly peddling with arms at his sides. His expression, his posture, everything about him gave off a nonchalant feeling of accomplishment- really just a more refined version of that grin I myself had flashed back earlier in my life. My memory suddenly teleported me back to those carefree childhood days, and to the first time I had heard “Handlebars”. The desire I felt to be able to unravel my seemingly iron grip on the bars and soar off with my arms extended to their fullest suddenly rose up like waves breaking against a shore. I looked at my cousin and saw the way he leaned and let him and the bike meander naturally. Yet at the same time he smoothly controlled the direction with the slightest shift in position and posture. My gaze, determined and steadfast, shifted back down to my own body and bike. Thinking I understood the right motions and shifts of my body, I gathered speed until I could almost feel the wind pushing me off my seat. Confident in the steady plowing of my bike, I released my hands from the handlebars. My arms rose to my sides as if they weren’t even mine to control. I was flying. I was free. I was riding my bike with no handlebars.

In that moment, I came to realize that the freedom I felt in flying down that bike path, with my arms extended like wings - that freedom was the potential that the voice was describing in the song. The image of a child striving and trying countless times to achieve the apparently momentous accomplishment of riding a bike with no handlebars is for me the same image of Edison persevering, and perspiring through thousands of designs before finding the right incandescent bulb – it is the same image as Verner von Braun and the bright scientists of NASA working through countless obstacles to achieve a mission the moon – it is the same image of me overcoming the hardships that I know I will find on the way to my own dreams .

Most days now I find the time to head out on my bike and, for a few minutes, feel the unlimited cosmos of potential at my outstretched fingertips. It still surprises me though. I can only imagine the neighbors looking up from the lawnmower and seeing a gangly teenager gliding by, seemingly caught up in another world. Truthfully that’s exactly what’s happening- I’m being caught up not a world I can see around me, but in one altered only by the change I myself can affect. And while there may be bumps in the road ahead that will throw me off balance, I need only to lift my arms, keep pedaling, and keep riding my bike with no handlebars.





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BehindBars said...
Sept. 12, 2016 at 9:57 pm
While you may be inclined to believe that to be the message of the song, you need only watch the video to determine that the song is about politics. Two friends in childhood going separate ways. One finding himself in a friendly and calm environment. The other taking the path to corporations and in the end has his friend executed. Good essay but could use some improvement. I suggest you watch the video to see my take on the song.
 
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