Thinking Out Loud

March 5, 2015

Bicycles, Mental Health, and Life at Our House

The secret algorithm of repeated articles on this blog is that every new month I give myself permission to re-post items that appeared in the same month. Usually I go back several years, but if I feel something was important it might get reused as soon as 12 months later. This particular article represented some major stuff we were dealing with at this time a year ago… Today I’m happy to report that for the most part, things resolved and we’ve moved on.

More than a dozen years ago, we woke up one morning to discover a pair of children’s bicycles had been left at the foot of our driveway. After giving the kids 24-hours to retrieve them, we realized they were probably stolen, and since the municipal police here deal with stolen bikes — and twice-yearly auction off unclaimed ones — we told them to come and get them.

When the officer arrived, he started asking questions; a lot of questions as it turned out. I know that in a criminal investigation, everyone should be considered a possible suspect, but the absurdity of proposing that a community leader with no previous record should suddenly steal children’s bicycles and call the police about it was more than I could bear.

“You think I stole the bikes?” I asked him.

“Well, we don’t know;” he replied.

To the best of my knowledge, this is a cold case. For all I know my name is in a file somewhere under “suspected bike thieves.”


Two weeks ago my son found himself in a very difficult situation. He was trying to help someone who clearly was experiencing some behavioral, psychological issues. That’s really all I need to say about it. At the same time however, he realized how little he could do to help, which was draining him physically and emotionally, and as parents, we decided to step in and help him escalate awareness of the situation to a point where there would be some resolution.

sometimes helping hurtsBut in the days that followed, the issue became less about the other student at the university, and more about my son and his response to it. I think that, not realizing the severity of the toll it was taking on my son, they felt he should have just ‘rolled with the punches’ or ‘risen above the circumstances’ or in some other way not be defeated by what has taking place.

While there’s some universal truth to that principle, I realized, in the course of a 40-minute phone call from the university administration that they felt that he stole the bicycles, so to speak, and today, their perception of the true problem probably has less to do with the problems the other student faces, and more about my son’s reaction.


I haven’t read it, but there’s a book out called When Helping Hurts. Putting yourself in the middle of a situation — or having no choice — is always difficult, and sometimes the other person experiences complete recovery but you now bear the battle scars. I can’t promise you that nobody is going to leave bicycles on your lawn or cross your path with psychological problems, but I can almost guarantee that someday you’ll find yourself caught up in a issue not of your own making, and have to reap the consequences of your involvement. It happens


There’s a rule in writing this kind of essay that you don’t suddenly introduce another analogy at the end, but I couldn’t help but add that my wife likened my son’s experience to a man who goes out into the river to save his dog, only to drown himself.

Sometimes the weight of personal or social or corporate responsibility pulls you under.

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