hands off

| September 20, 2017 | 2 Replies

When I was a child, I got into a bicycle accident: jaw broken in three places. A couple years later, when I tried riding again, I got into another accident, and I swore off bicycles.

At age 28 I finally got back on a bike. Riding became about so much more than getting somewhere: it represented freedom birthed from fear.

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I loved riding enough that I had to be on my bike for some of our wedding pictures.

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It’s amazing that my cousin Lily caught the moment below. I had never before taken my hands off the handlebars.

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In the past weeks, I’ve been experimenting with “no hands” riding. I take long rides down a quiet Rowley street, and when the road is clear and straight, I’ll let go. At first I could do this for a couple seconds. At this point I can go for quite some time.

This is about refining my freedom. Taking my hands off requires a trust that my body knows how to balance. I can’t think it through; I just have to do it.

The past nine months have been about refining my freedom, too: loosening my grip on my life plans. I lived most of 2016 in a depressive fog. I felt the strong impulse to let go of classroom teaching, but I had no idea what I’d do instead. I slogged through the days with a sense of desperation. I researched other career tracks but nothing felt right.

In December, after telling my father-in-law “I just wish I had a sign,” I had a dream that I was in a chaplaincy program. Part of me felt dubious about this plan, but it seemed like my only real option.

By February I was accepted into a CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) program at Beverly Hospital. In the months between the dream and starting CPE, my depression gradually lifted. I wanted to process my depression as thoroughly as I could. I read books, spoke with discerning friends, worked with an amazing life coach, and wrote in my journal (though clearly not my blog).

I left my teaching job in mid-May and entered CPE with a strong sense of resolve. Whether or not chaplaincy was my calling, I wanted to get as much out of the educational process as I could.

I did. I could go on and on about CPE: the close relationships we formed within our six-person cohort, the challenging inner work, the opportunity to offer patients presence instead of manufacturing solutions.


By the end of the 11-week program, I didn’t feel a strong calling into hospital ministry, but I felt renewed trust in the Spirit of God. My heart is pulled to spend time with people on the margins of society, people who need presence far more than they want a performance. Working in the performing arts for the past 19 years has honed my ability to perform; developing deeper presence requires different work.

Leaving the security of a clear career path has been a lot like taking my hands off the handlebars.

People ask me what I’m doing now, and it’s easy to snap into “I’ve got it under control” mode. I’m teaching music and voice lessons part-time. I’m volunteering in a prison and a women’s safe home. I’m applying for a program that doesn’t offer a traditional degree but feels like a perfect fit.

Full disclosure: taking my hands off the handlebars feels as frightening as it does freeing. I feel adventurous and I also feel vulnerable.

Soon enough it will be time to put my hands back down. I’ll approach a curve in the road or an uphill climb. Right now, this stretch of road is wide open, so I’m letting go.

Category: creating, journey, remaining calm

Hannah Lynn Mell

About the Author ()

Hannah Lynn Mell grew up a missionary kid in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Now she lives in Rowley, Massachusetts with her exquisitely kind husband David, their plucky three-legged cat Thomas, and a needy-yet-lovable dachshund named Birdie. She's worked with singers since 1998 and loves to help people of all ages free their voices.

Comments (2)

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  1. So great to hear about your recent steps in your journey Hannah! These sound like really good directions, no matter what form they end up taking. We’ll be rooting for you as we always have!

    As an aside, I used to really like riding “no-hands” on my bike back when I was a teen. It was partially a practical thing in that I had a paper route and it was easier to fold up the papers while I was riding than beforehand. It got to apoint where I could ride the entire route, save for a few sharp corners, completely hands free! I don’t think I could do it easily today though. Different bike, different roads, and it’s been years! Maybe I’ll give it another try next time I’m out.

  2. Catherine says:

    What an honest way to represent this time of your life, Hannah. So much of it resonated with me. I am so excited to see where life takes you! You have so much to offer the world, and more than just a performance.

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