Today’s bike ride took me on my usual route down the hill and to the right to the bike racks next to the ER at University of Maryland Medical Center. I’ve done this ride at least a hundred times, likely more, but today felt a little different. Yesterday I learned that another cyclist was hit and killed by another car. I saw the post on one of my bicycle groups on Facebook, and commented on the link right away. How tragic, I said, because it’s always tragic. I know what it feels like to get the news that a car has taken someone you love. I know that when someone dies, they are gone forever, and you are forever different. I know this, and I also know how resilient we are in the face of grief, as long as we let ourselves feel it all–or as much of it as we can bear–and as long as we stay open to it, and talk about it. I know that a year and a half after my dad was killed by a car, I am ok. I feel joy again, not as often or easily as before, but it’s already back. And it hasn’t even been two years yet. But I’m different now, and it isn’t a difference I’d wish for anyone. It hurts, badly. So when I saw the news, I knew another group of people would now have to tread this far too well trod road, and I hate that.
And then I found out it was a young man who was loved by many people I know. He was an intrepid cyclist–he’d biked across the country–and helped out with the famous Baltimore Bike Party. He was an apprentice at my favorite bike shop–Baltimore Bicycle Works–and has been on rides all over the place with so many people I care about. He was a fixture in a tight knit bicycle community. And today it feels like all of us, whether we knew Jeremy or not, are in mourning.
How did that change my ride? Well, I put on my safety vest for one thing, even though I know there’s only so much I can do to stay safe on the road. I rode with a bit more tentativeness, even though I know there’s only so much I can do to stay safe on the road. I rode with a heavy sadness, knowing that so many of us are pedaling a little more slowly, a little more sadly today. It could have been any of us, but it shouldn’t be any of us.
I locked up on a full bike rack, thought about how many people are connected one way or another with every bike on that single rack, how many people would be plunged into mourning if any of us died, how many are weeping today at the loss of Jeremy. I walked to the bus, looked at my phone, read the words of another friend grieving today, and let the tears come, streaming down my face. These losses are so real, and they are so deep. I let my mind remember what it was like to see my dad, there on the hospital bed, brain dead, his head swollen from the impact when the truck hit him. It’s a memory I can still look at only sideways, and I cried thinking of how many people now have this same picture etched on their souls. Tragic, in every way.
I rode home at my usual time, pedaling up the hill in traffic, taking the lane because I cannot take the close-passing bullshit today. I stopped at the light at Howard Street and snapped this picture. Housing is now storage for all the excess crap capitalism is making us buy. Ok great thanks everybody. And then I rode the rest of the way, a slow pedal in this humidity, a stop at my local bar for a drink and some fries and a few more tears. I’m so sorry, everyone who lost their friend, their son, their brother, their lover. There’s no redemptive moment here, except maybe that we are built to grieve as much as we are built for anything else.
I don’t know you, but saw this post on facebook via some of my Baltimore friends. I’m a cyclist in Seattle, and had the same experience almost three years ago – seeing the news of the crash, feeling it as a cyclist, and then finding out it was a friend. And then getting on my bike, crying, and riding home from work, still crying, and riding every day after that. Mercifully, my grief reaction was that for months afterward, I would get on my bike and be flooded with gratitude for my friend, her amazing life, and for my amazing life and my amazing body that can ride and feel like I’m flying. I’m sending you and your community of folks a hug.
Thank you for your kind words, Denise. Love to your community, as well. And yep, bicycling feels like flying. I wear a skirt when I’m riding, and I swear I’m a kite. xo
Oh the portal of grief through which wretched lost strands flail in Healing’s dignified clasp.