Making my way across the freshly mowed grass in the last hour of daylight, I see Ben and his mom outside their tiny, rough apartment. Smoke drifts out from a small grill and Ben is bent over the front wheel of a small bicycle. He looks my way, straightens up and waves, “Hi, Doc!”
I am struck by the friendliness of his voice, having only met him once before and talked but briefly. I speak to Rose and then take a closer look as the fifteen-year-old tightens the nuts holding the wheel into the front fork of the bike. In response to my question, Ben replies, “Yeah, this wheel is pretty bent up.”
Finished with the straightening, he takes hold of the wheel and gives it a hard jerk. It should spin freely but stops after less than a full turn. “Let’s take a look at that,” I offer and he loosens the nuts. I hold the wheel and ask him to turn it. I cannot keep the axle bolt from turning, too. I know without looking that the bearing is shot but I look anyway, then show him the ruined sleeve. “Ahh, we’ve got lots of wheels,” he says.
Just then, the kid from next door comes riding up and Ben greets him, “I need that wheel.” Isaac gives up the bike with little argument. Maybe it’s not his bicycle; it’s often easier to surrender something when we understand it wasn’t ours, anyway. Within minutes, the swap is made and the one bike is ready to ride while the one that was being ridden needs another wheel.
On one level, I was amused by Ben’s calm, quick efficiency. I remembered how my brother, Paul, and I used to swap parts among the three or four old bikes that we had on the farm in the middle part of the previous century. And then, I remembered what it was like to know that swapping one old thing for another old thing was the only choice we had. That part wasn’t so amusing.
But there was yet another part to this. It is this other part that reaches down deep and makes me think that this kid just might have more of a chance in life than his present circumstances might suggest.
Ben has the ability to see the opportunities within a situation instead of resenting the lack. Even in his poverty, he has gained a freedom and power that often escapes many who experience greater financial fortune. And, by the way, people like Ben are more fun to be around, too.