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Column Why recovering my brother's stolen bike meant so much

Colin Regan sent out an appeal on Facebook when his bicycle, which had belonged to his late brother Gordon, was stolen. The universe (and friends) conspired to reunite him with it just before Christmas.

MOST OF US will have encountered petty crime at least once in our lives – a vandalised car, a stolen wallet.

Colin Regan, a former Leitrim footballer and journalist and now working with the GAA, had his bicycle stolen at the beginning of December. He sent an appeal out on Facebook for its safe return and by a minor Christmas miracle, managed to track it down on 22 December. It was a happy find made all the more poignant for the fact that the bike had previously belonged to his brother Gordon, who tragically died in a car accident in April 2002, at the age of 30.

Colin shared this story of its return – and what it means to him – with his friends on Facebook on Christmas Eve. He has kindly allowed to share it with you here:

I’ve never hugged an inanimate object before, let alone have one hug me back. But when I walked out of the Dublin Auction Rooms with Gordon’s bike beside me on Saturday afternoon that’s exactly what happened.

I don’t mean that the bike grew arms and wrapped them around me. What I believe I felt was all the energy and positive vibes everyone threw out into the universe when they heard the bike had been nicked flowing through my body: just like you should feel from the shared energy of a true hug! That energy directed me back to the bike and was being released, its work done. And I felt that old familiar feel of Gordon all over again, like he was right there.

I don’t tend to get too attached to objects but being an exercise junkie, having Gordon’s bike was always a great way for me to reconnect with my brother. I use it pretty much every day in and around Dublin city and every time I jump on it I say hello to Gordon. Occasionally, on a sunny day with The Cure or Pink Floyd or Jeff Buckley ringing in my ears, I look over my left shoulder and see him cycling along with me, always smiling that big smile of his.

My favourite photo of Gordon is one taken on the football field of our old secondary school in the Royal and Prior. In it Gordon is striding out into a future of endless potential shoulder to shoulder with his great friends Cormac Walsh, Robin Buchanan and Conor McGonagle, each of them a font for the energy of youth. You can see it spilling out from their eyes and their smiles. They are probably 17 or 18 years old and the photograph (taken by Mr Coyle, the school’s metalwork teacher and a photography enthusiast) captures the radiance of youth and that intangible element we call hope.

“I’ve been giving the world one big thumbs-up ‘Like’ sign since I got Gordon’s bike back”

That is the smile Gordon wears I see him watching me ride his bike in my mind’s eye. Whenever I get the chance to cycle into the Wicklow Mountains, or along the high roads and byroads of Leitrim, and spend five or six hours in the saddle I get the chance to talk with him and fill him in on all that has been happening in my life. It’s good to reconnect.

I’ve been giving the world one big thumbs-up ‘Like’ sign since I got Gordon’s bike back. It’s been amazing to see how the message on Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with so many people I’ve been lucky enough to have touch my life to varying degrees down through the years.

Some of you I haven’t seen for years and our connection goes right back to those Halcyon days in the Royal and Prior. (It was great having a big brother in fifth year when I arrived (very) wet behind the ears in first year. On my first day at the Boarding House, Gordon brought me straight up to the fifth year dorm where Spud (Jason McGinley) was sitting shell-shocked on the edge of a bed holding in his hands the hair he had spent the summer growing out – the Matron had just cut it off. I remember looking at those lads in that dorm with their stubble and their long hair and their worldly chat and thinking that they were so old, and wondering why I had been put in a school full of men instead of in one with other innocent little boys like me. Fast-forward 25 years and I am now seven years older than my big brother ever got to be…)

I have connected with the rest of you through shared life experiences, on travels, through mutual friends, on football fields, on the top of a mountain, on a dance floor in a Boston bar, down the back of a bone-shaking bus in Malawi, in college, on various jobs, watching the sun go down on top of a temple in Anchor What, through family, on streets where old ghosts meet, through old loves, or through my true love.

By whatever means there is a connection. And now we have yet another connection because ‘The Curious Incident of Gordon’s Bike Getting Stolen in the Night’ and its miraculous return has connected us all again if only through the simple click of a ‘like’ button on a social media site.

“He’s still out there watching over me in some mysterious way”

I guess the tale struck a chord this Christmas time. It’s a time of the year many of us miss our dearly departed loved ones the most. I know many of you will be missing brothers and sisters, and mothers and fathers, and sons and daughters, and husbands and wives, and lovers and friends and family, that have left this world before we wanted them to. I didn’t need to get Gordon’s bike stolen and find it again in a city of 1.5 million people to remind me that he’s still out there watching over me in some mysterious way that I don’t really understand.

But that’s the nature of faith. Faith is not knowing but still believing. And I know I could keep Gordon’s bike forever locked up in my house and never risk taking it out again for fear it could be stolen again. But what would be the point in that? Gordon loved cycling it and so do I and each time I do it reminds me to reconnect with Gordon in even the most simplistic of ways such as bringing him to mind and seeing his smiling face in my mind’s eye.

And when I think of Gordon I think of Dad, and I think of Terry, and Uncle Willie and I think of Shane McGettigan and I think of Catriona Allen Hamilton, and Philly McGuinness, and Seamus Dillon and I think of the Crowes and the Dolans and the Gallaghers and all the other friends and families who have lost loved ones and I realise that as painful as it is we are all just part of the cycle of life and that there are some connections that even death cannot undo. And then I start thinking of all the friends and family I still have around me (some of whom I haven’t seen for too long) and I feel blessed and I thank God, or Budda, or Krishna, or Allah or Gaia, or Mother Earth or The Wizard of Oz whatever you want to call this thing that connects us and binds us together in so many intangible and magical ways.

All this has been running around my head since I got Gordon’s bike back to such a degree I couldn’t sleep last night. It wouldn’t have surprised me in the slightest if, when I got up at 6am this morning, I found Santa Claus sitting with the Ould Boy sharing a nip of póitín at the kitchen table planning out the route around the world for the big night he has ahead this Christmas eve.

Me, I’m going to wallow in this glow for the day and take a wee cycle over to Gordon and Dad’s graves at the foot of the Dartry mountains by the banks of Lough Melvin and fill them in on the finer details of the story – not that they don’t already know.  Then I think I might stream and watch ‘American Flyers’, a movie about brothers and cycling and life and death and one that I first watched with Gordon when I was 10 and he was 14. Cheesy? It’s got Kevin Costner in it for goodness sake! But isn’t that what’s Christmas is all about?

Here’s wishing a healthy and happy New Year to each and every one of you and your loved ones, wherever they may be.

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