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Kickstand offers a lesson of life

Stand ready.

As you read this column, you will come to recognize my two-word opening is a play on words. You might even call it a metaphor.

Let me begin with a personal story. Our 5-year-old grandson visited us a few weeks ago — it was delightful, but he missed riding his bike. We envision him spending a lot of time with us this summer, so we decided to purchase a bike he could ride while he was visiting, and then he could take it home at the end of the summer. Doting but practical grandparents, we looked long and hard for a reliable, used bike in the right 18-inch size. No success. We finally succumbed to a sparkly new, metallic-blue Dynacraft Impact.

Jordan was elated — beside himself with joy. Have you ever seen a child submerged in happiness? It illuminates your world. It gives you renewed hope that God is watching and smiling and has things figured out.

There was, however, one problem with this bike. It had no kickstand. You remember that feature, I’m sure.

For Jordan, the kickstand was a critical element in being able to enjoy his new bike. The smaller bike he had at home, a five-hour drive away, did not have a kickstand. This all-boy-all-the-time grandson had clearly envisioned himself riding through neighborhoods, periodically stopping to climb off his bike and deftly kicking the stand into place, strutting around a little and then remounting with a flourish.

When life presents challenges, my husband always offers solutions. He said to Jordan, “We can just buy a kickstand and install it.”

And so, we did. It was not very expensive. It came with a bolt and a bracket. All we needed was a wrench. I use “we” metaphorically, because my husband did all the installing. Jordan was mesmerized by the transformation. Frankly, so was I.

“Stand ready?” I said.

“Yes,” said Jordan.

And he deftly mounted his bike and rolled off, with his grandma fast-walking behind him. He braked his bike at a neighbor’s house, got off it in an exaggerated, tough-guy manner, flipped his kickstand into place and stood with his arms on his hips ready for questions from the flower-watering neighbor, who obligingly complimented him on his bike-riding ability and his impressive use of the kickstand.

That moment will forever stay in my heart as a metaphor on life. I think of a metaphor as a literary tool with symbolic meaning. Phases like “life is a roller coaster” or “when something goes wrong in life, just yell ‘plot twist’ and move on” are more traditional metaphorical phrases. But “stand ready” is my new personal favorite.

An old article in Psychology Today explained the importance of metaphors. The author said, “People aren’t clocks, our lives don’t necessarily have predictability.”

To that I say, “stand ready.”

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor emeritus, Oregon State University, and the author of “How Gray in My Valley: Enlightened Observations About Being Old.” Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.

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