Flowering Tree Along the Gwynns Falls Trail in Middle Branch Park

Flowering Tree Along the Gwynns Falls Trail in Middle Branch Park

The sun came out on Tuesday, and it had a profound effect on my mood after a gray and rainy Monday. So much feels gray and rainy that when the skies are like that too, I get a bit overwhelmed with it. But like all feelings, the sadness of Monday melted away to the relative good cheer of Tuesday, made even better by “seeing” some of my students in our online class meetings that morning.

And then I was utterly exhausted. It is going to take me a minute to get in shape for this.

I meant to do more work, but then I was shattered by the news that my workplace had lost someone to COVID-19. I didn’t know him, but many of my colleagues did, and the sadness was palpable, compounded by knowing this certainly won’t be the last heartache to emerge from this. All of us will know someone, or know someone who knows someone, who will die from this, if we do not stop it now. The ripples from a single loss are so intense, and compounded by hundreds of thousands all in a span of months is too much.

So I took a bike ride. I made a quick delivery stop at R.’s to leave bagels and sweet potatoes on her porch before heading down the hill toward the Convention Center, where they are preparing to set up a field hospital to relieve some of the pressure from city hospitals when the patient numbers rise. I walked for a minute, and G. sped past me on a skateboard, looking like a superhero. I hopped on my bike and pedaled to catch up and say hello and then continued my ride, a left on Centre Street to take the bike lane to N.’s house to wave my hellos up to her 7th floor window. B. is still sick, and they are both staying inside until he is better for 72 hours. He hasn’t been tested, but it has all the markings of COVID-19, and it has been brutal for over a week now. It doesn’t have to kill you to be devastating.

I then took a left on Eutaw Street to see what’s happening at Lexington Market now that it has been closed. It is such a gathering place–where have the people gone? They are sitting on ledges and hanging at street corners, in big groups, fences are up, and there are so many cops. Staying home is a privilege for those with homes to say comfortably in.

I next stopped at the Convention Center and peered in the windows, but nothing. It’s all happening inside, I presume, and outside I saw just one lonely news van with a reporter and cameraman. Nothing to see here, folks.

I then decided to head over to Middle Branch Park, because I know they’ve got some absolutely obscene flowering trees every spring. The world is upside down right now, but it is also still true that trees are flowering, and they are gorgeous. it turned out to be a bit early for the full flowering, but I caught a picture of this one, and it was glorious.

The last time my dad came to town for a visit we rented him a bike and I took him on this very ride out to the Hanover Street bridge and back. He insisted on renting one of those fat tired bicycles, just to see what it was like–a slow roll on asphalt. We had so much fun, and I was so grateful to have that time with him, showing him my routes. It made him so, so happy that I loved riding bikes, and we were planning a tour together for the following summer. He wanted to do the Canadian Rockies, but I was nervous about the altitude and was pushing to do the Underground Railroad trail through Ohio and north to Canada.

He was 70 years old, about to turn 71. Shortly after that birthday he was crossing the street when he was struck and killed by a driver in a Ford F-150. A brief story in the LA Times referred to him as “elderly.” And he was, I suppose. But he also had a lot more to do, and I had a lot more I wanted to do with him.

I thought about that as I rode home, the public debate that maybe the old have to risk sacrifice to save the economy for the rest of us. Putting aside that “the rest of us” includes people of all ages, immunocompromised or not, who will also die, I cannot understand this debate. That would mean sacrificing my dad. I did that, sacrificed him to our world built for cars, not people. It hasn’t been worth it for me, and multiplied by a factor of a million, it won’t be worth it for any of us.

I get it, I want things “open for business” again. I don’t want an economic collapse, though the notion that many haven’t already been living with economic collapse is rather quaint. But the profundity of the loss of life is something different. Maybe it’s easy to be cavalier about it when it’s not happening to you at that very moment. But when it’s happening to you, when it’s your dad on a breathing machine like mine was, and you agonizingly wait for death to come when the tube is finally removed, like me and my family did, it’s impossible to be cavalier, to say well, I guess some of us have to die. What will we become if we make that choice? I cannot bear it.

And then I was home, tired after a couple of hours pedaling around. I love riding my bike. What a gift to be able to do that still.

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