Embarrassment

“I want to buy a used headlight, but I can’t afford much.” I was in a local bike shop, somewhat rustic, with bikes hanging from the ceiling and parts scattered wherever. The employee was squatting beside a bike, replacing a chain, his hands covered in oil. Looking up, he peered at me as though I were an alien.

“Huh? You want a USED headlight?” he managed to utter. From that, I knew the conversation wasn’t headed for high ground. Selling used equipment was obviously not a priority for this person.

“Yes, remember me?” I stuttered. “I was the one who was here yesterday and bought that 3-speed bike with the bent frame for $10. Getting a headlight would make it safer.”

Pulling himself upright and taking a cloth to dry his hands, he mumbled something and went to the back of the shop. Returning a few minutes later with a rusty (and bent) headlight, he held it out to me. “I don’t know if this works, but you can have it for fifty cents.”

That discussion occurred 51 years ago, shortly after my dear wife and son and I moved into our first home. The bike shop was a short distance away and I had decided that having a bike to take for occasional rides would be good for my health and fun besides. The prior day, we had driven to the shop where I purchased a 3-speed English bike with attractive pinstripes, some rust, and a slightly bent frame that made sitting upright a challenge, but at a bargain price of ten dollars. Not having ridden a bike in 15 years, I wobbled the bike home that evening, rediscovering the danger of riding with no light at dusk. That precipitated the need to return for a headlight.

That bike gave me several years of pleasurable riding through our neighborhood, eventually being donated to our local thrift store. But the bike is not the reason for my writing today. My thoughts are on me and how I have changed and wondering why. As we age through life, our attitudes and views of life change and that change is what disturbs me.

See, that bike shop wasn’t just a store for bikes; it catered to enthusiasts, the people who wear special clothing when riding and pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for their bikes. If I wanted a used and inexpensive bike today, would I go there with the intent of buying a bike that most people would avoid as past its prime? Would I go back another day to buy a used headlight? Probably not. I would feel embarrassed. And my response troubles me.

Why would I feel embarrassed in asking to buy a cheap product? At the time, I thought nothing of it, but today I find myself considering how I might appear in such an act. And that doesn’t speak well. A general problem with aging? Becoming more self-aware than in our youth? A flaw, for sure. This shortcoming I see, not just in myself, but in other adults as well. Our concern on how we are perceived trumps our desire to act. I’m reminded of the phrase, dance like nobody’s watching, yet we don’t, do we? In fact, we rarely dance in life at all. Our lives will be happier and our memories deeper if we can rise above that fear of being embarrassed. Yes, I have work to do.