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The Common Ground – Split Decisions

When you accidentally take the path less shaken.


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It started like any other perfectly boring unremarkable day. I was running to the store with my kids, but since my youngest had a few birthday bucks from Grandma to spend, I obliged his request to shop for video games first.

As we pulled into the parking lot, a police car ripped down the highway. Followed by two more. After the eighth car blasted by with sirens howling, my youngest analyzed all of the worldly knowledge he’d collected over these past nine years and came to a singular conclusion.

“Someone’s probably getting a speeding ticket.”

“No,” I answered, my stomach already sinking. “That many cars means something really big happened.”

As we mosied through the video-game aisle and I feigned interest in detailed explanations of different Minecraft realms, a neighbor texted asking if I was at King Soopers.

“Headed there soon. Need anything?”

“Don’t go,” they responded. “There’s an active shooter.” 

As I write this, it’s been a little over a month since the day my neighborhood store became the store in the newspapers. A large fence threaded with bright-yellow police tape appeared overnight to protect the integrity of what we still called our grocery store but the news referred to as the police scene. Within days, the wire fencing that stretched around the parking lot transformed into a thick wall of flowers, photos, and messages—some so personal that the author’s grief leaks out from the eyes of all who read them.

Though I drove past the King Soopers almost daily, I hadn’t summoned the courage to stop by the memorial. Not until yesterday.

 

Mountain biker in the forest silhouetted by sun rays
Photo: San Needham

I woke up with aspirations of a ride that would hurt enough to feel good and give me the bittersweet sting of ripping the band-aid off my spring gluttony. Unfortunately, the sun had other plans, simultaneously luring us winter-worn Coloradans outside while melting the last of the snow and turning our trails into chunky peanut butter.

With my baggies left untouched, I ignored my freshly tuned knobby-tired bike. Instead, I reached for the roadie that leads a double life as both a wanderlust machine and my grocery ge tter. Still wanting to rip the band-aid off, I headed toward the steep mountain road that reminds me that I’ll always climb like a Floridian.

It’s the same direction I pedal to ever thing from masochistic missions like this one, to stops at the brew pub, and until recently, groceries. With my body firmly set on autopilot, I turned into the shopping center until I found myself staring at a small piece of paper in a Ziploc bag with 10 names neatly typed on it. Stretching out from either side of this note were hundreds of others tucked between more flowers than I’ve ever seen before. The once-prominent yellow police tape was now barely visible behind the artifacts of our collective grief.

Sometimes I stood, sometimes I walked. I thought about the faces I knew and the ones I didn’t. And like everyone, I let my mind wander to what would have happened had my day gone slightly differently. Butterfly wings and all that.

For all the fantasies of grandiose adventures stoked by conversations over post-ride beers and through magazines like this one, it’s the unremarkable, everyday experiences that truly bind us. Only a lucky few will get to see Sedona’s spires or ride in places where learning another language is a prerequisite, but who hasn’t had an awkward conversation at the grocery store checkout while buying nothing but Funfetti frosting and a six-pack?

Just me? OK then.

I woke up with aspirations of a ride that would hurt enough to feel good and give me the bittersweet sting of ripping the band-aid off my spring gluttony.

After a year of lockdown, the desire to go bucket-list big this summer is palpable. But as I stood outside the eerily empty parking lot of a grocery store that would normally be bustling at this time of day, I was struck by the power of the completely forgettable moments that are so easy to take for granted.

Life is often defined by its most striking moments, but the majority of our lives are spent going through the motions, filling our days with moments so priceless we forget their value.

It’s not our grandiose adventures or mind-boggling experiences that tie us together. It’s the moments marked only by their sheer unremarkability that flesh out the lines of our life stories. So yes, here’s to great adventures. But also, here’s to the boring, the forgettable, and the perfectly unremarkable moments too.

Here’s to nights at the local trailhead where tailgates lay flat and people mill about in various states of spandex. Here’s to the awkward four-way stops that are part-and-parcel of the human condition and mornings spent drinking stale coffee on that one friend’s stoop. Here’s to inventing new swear words while searching for that stupid clip we always drop when changing out our disc brake pads, and to perfectly mediocre mid-ride peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Standingoutside my grocery store, I’m not overwhelmed by any one particular memory, but instead feel the weight of a thousand little moments washing over me. My kid riding his bike down there by himself as his first major solo expedition. Chit-chatting about the weather with people handing out samples. Walking around the store for 20 minutes before realizing that I was still wea ing my bike helmet. The smiling bagger whose picture now stands in front of me.

I wish I could end this with some grand epiphany about life or community or the fragility of it all, but instead I’ll just offer this: Next time you get the chance, grab your bike and go ride the hell out of something utterly unremarkable.