Kid down the road got a new skateboard for Christmas, a bright red one with orange flames, white wheels, and tiny metal blocks underneath that spark when scraped against the pavement. He’s been riding around the neighborhood on it every day since. Doesn’t matter how cold it is or if the mountains have driven down black, snow-laced clouds. He’ll still ride by. Every day after school, and most every day during the weekend.
Of course the skateboard hasn’t faired well in the process. The red has now begun to fade, and the orange flames are now a dull ochre. The metal blocks will still spark—I can see them doing so in the early evenings as he rides by—but now they come more as puffs of light than showers of fire. I suppose this is by design. I’ve heard stakeboarders abhor the new and shiny. The used and scuffed is much more appealing.
I’ll watch him. I’ll even go so far as to say that once I see him pass my living room window once, I’ll pause at that window until he rides by again. It’s the way he does it, you see. The way he rides.
He’s not flashy. I’m not sure if this is his first board, though I’m inclined to believe it is. He’s of the age when the world widens at the seams and expands beyond his home and his block. He can ride now. He can explore. He can race down the slight incline of the hill and feel the wind in his face. It is freedom, and it is good.
It’s too bad that one of these days he’ll likely get clobbered by a passing vehicle. Again, it’s the way he rides—in the middle of the street, through stop signs, jumping curbs, like a miniature Evel Knievel. I don’t want you to believe I watch him out of some admiration, some envy. No, I watch him because I’m scared to death for him.
Also, because I used to be him.
Call it a boy thing, though I’m sure girls aren’t immune. They play and romp and do all manner of reckless things, all seemingly without care or thought of consequence, all because they are convinced of their immortality. Nothing will happen to them. Nothing can. Because they’re going to live forever.
That was me.
I once jumped off the roof of the house with an umbrella, thinking it would make a cool parachute. It didn’t work. Once I caught the breath that had been knocked out of me by the hard ground, I tried it again.
I once rappelled down a two-story set of stairs using a jump rope attached to a combination lock.
And there was the time when after watching a re-run of Happy Days, I tried jumping over four empty garbage cans on my bike. I managed one and a half.
Why did I do these things? Stupidity is the first thing that comes to mind (I had, and have, that in abundance). But the truth is that I honestly thought nothing could go wrong. Nothing bad would ever happen.
Now I’m older. Now I’m a husband and a father. Now I know the bad things that can and do happen, often without the slightest provocation, and often through no fault of my own. I think as we get older the glow in the world begins to fade and light because dusk. I think we begin to see shadows, that lurking What If. And I think we ponder the worst that can happen so much that the best that can happen goes ignored.
I think sometimes we worry so much about the traffic that we don’t allow ourselves to feel the wind in our face and know the freedom to simply be.
Age robs us of more than just our strength and our innocence. It also demands our boldness. If anything, that’s something I’d like to reclaim. I’d like to recapture that sense of immortality, even if it is a false one.
I know this: in a few short minutes I expect to see a young boy fly by on his skateboard, and when he does I will instinctively look for an approaching car. But I will also root him on, and I will see the wind in his face.