When I first bought a bike as a grown up, I also bought a pamphlet about biking in the city, and there was a section entitled CLAIM YOUR SPACE. Bikers, the pamphlet said, have as much right to the streets as anyone. If it’s safe for you to ride on the edge of the road and let cars pass you, fine, but if the safest place is in the middle of the lane, even if you’re slowing down the cars behind you, you’re allowed to be there. And I hopped on my bike with those words ringing in my ears: CLAIM YOUR SPACE. YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO BE HERE, a right to your portion of the road, whether or not it is convenient for anybody else.
And if you still need incentive to claim your space, on the road and in this life, here is a poem by Naomi Replanski.
I tried to live small.
I took a narrow bed.
I held my elbows to my sides.
I tried to step carefully
And to think softly
And to breathe shallowly
In my portion of air
And to disturb no one.
Yet see how I spread out and I cannot help it.
I take to myself more and more, and I take nothing
That I do not need, but my needs grow like weeds,
All over and invading; I clutter this place
With all the apparatus of living.
You stumble over it daily.
And then my lungs take their fill.
And then you gasp for air.
Excuse me for living,
But, since I am living,
Given inches, I take yards,
Taking yards, dream of miles,
And a landscape, unbounded
And vast in abandon.
You too dreaming the same.
I wrote the paragraph above, about claiming your space, as a comment on a video Glennon Doyle Melton shared. And, guess what? Among the many people chiming in and saying they wanted to claim their space, too, was a man whose comment was something like, “Hey genius, the roads are for cars! Get off of them!!!”
As if we needed to be reminded that when we do take up the space we need to ride, to breathe, to live, there will be those who push us back, and try to shove us to the side. They try to scare us, because it’s a vulnerable position being on a bike, exposed, among steel-enclosed cars. But we have the right to be here. Our life itself is our passport. We are here and, incidentally, we are important. That space we take up is important space, in which we do work that no one else could do. If we shrink to the edge, that work will be lost, and the world will be the worse for its loss.
Your space is yours. Take it. Claim it. Inches, miles yards — as much as you need. I’ll be on the road with you, cheering you on.