By Dale Spangler
For many of us we've been around motorcycles our entire life. Whether it's racing, riding on the weekends with our friends, working at a dealership, or for a company within the industry—in one form or another dirt bikes have dominated our lives. So much so that often we get so wrapped up in our own realities that we’re unaware of the rest of the world moving around us. Dirt bikes control our lives to the point where everything else falls to the periphery. To jolt us from our microscopic world and remove our dirt bike blinders can take a major life event, such as the recent presidential election, a natural disaster, or starting a new job. For me it was an eye-opening book that shook me out of the dirt bike zone.
The book I speak of is titled Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo. This non-fiction book is based in the Annawadi shanty town slum surrounding India's Mumbai airport. What makes this book so eye-opening is its unabashed and startlingly honest description of the daily living conditions of the people of Annawadi. These are people that have little chance to improve their lives based upon an ancient caste system where it is literally next to impossible to leave the societal position one is born into. Life for Annawadi people is a constant daily struggle to survive in an unfair and often corrupt world where the bare necessities of life are difficult to obtain; where waking up each morning and finding the will to continue is a daily triumph. Yet despite their hardships, these people are thankful for the little they have and are incredibly creative in their methods of obtaining the means for survival. When you have so little choice, the competition is immense, and the stakes so high, the people of Annawadi are forced to be creative in the most incredible ways imaginable.
For me this was a raw reality check—even more: a startling discovery. I am not forced to be creative on a daily basis, I have the luxury of doing a job that allows me to be creative when the need arises. My survival does not depend upon it, which leads me to stop and reflect on just how lucky I am to be able to live the life that I lead. To be able to sit here and type this essay is a privilege. To be able to live my life and make a living as part of the dirt bike community is the ultimate privilege.
This time of year, as we enter into the holiday season, is often a time of annual personal reflection. A time to be thankful for the people around us and the lives we lead. This year has been especially difficult after an ugly election that has many wondering what's next. We’re currently a people divided. It would be easy for us to simply put on our blinders, tune out all the chaos and live within our own dirt bike zone. But instead we have the opportunity to step outside of our comfort zone and look at what is happening elsewhere in the world and quickly realize that no matter what side of the political spectrum we fall, as Americans, we live a life of privilege. Now more than ever we need empathy and compassion instead of divisiveness.
For me that's the power of a good book or a deep conversation with someone with beliefs other than my own. It opens my mind to the world outside of my own reality. This holiday season as I reflect on another year passed, with empathy in my heart the creative people of Annawadi will be in my thoughts and on my mind.
For more information about the book Behind the Beautiful Forevers, visit www.behindthebeautifulforevers.com.