For several years, I was a pretty devoted road cyclist. My dad had been diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of lymphoma and all the waiting, watching, and wondering became too much in the midst of his treatment process. I got on my bike in the hopes that completing a couple century rides with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program would help me feel purposeful and powerful in the midst of driving the highway back and forth between our homes and chemo treatments. I had been cycling a fair amount before my dad’s diagnosis, completing weekend two-state bike rides with the MS Society or getting an early morning ride in with a girlfriend to catch up on our lives. And so I knew the precariousness of the cyclist, how they are beholden to the other drivers on the road paying attention, giving them the right of way when they are due (bikes are considered another vehicle on the road with the same rights and responsibilities). I was often surprised at how angry some drivers would get at cyclists, as if being on a bike is a specific afront to those who drive cars- although I don’t know a single cyclist who feels that way (in fact, all the cyclists I know drive cars, too). But I was fortunate to never have a close call with a vehicle because the reality is that the vehicle will always win, the cyclist stands no chance. I haven’t been on my bike since Happy came home because cycling is a time intensive sport. It takes a long time to get out the door (air in tires, drinks prepped, snack pocket full, etc) and a fair amount of time to either drive to deserted country roads or to pedal out to deserted country roads. For awhile, I was cycling at least 8 hours every Saturday and Sunday. Now, I certainly can’t find two hours for a workout a day (some days, I can’t find 20 minutes for a shower), much less 8. But I still have an affinity for the peacefulness of the sport; pedaling is where I have felt the greatest sense of peace and the closest to my faith. I get why cyclists get out there. I understand the pull of the pedals. I miss that peace.
This past weekend, one of my dear friends was cycling when a car cut her off in order to pull into a parking space. Anna hit the car as well as another parked car and suffered a concussion, a bruised shoulder, a spattering of other bruises, and some significant road rash.* My friend Anna who is as sweet and fun-loving and committed and passionate and unassuming and compassionate and happy and friendly and good as they come. It could have been worse, several eye witnesses saw Anna’s head go under the car and possibly strike a wheel. But, maybe, instead of focusing on how it could have been worse, what we should focus on is how it could have been better.
I live in a very active town. There are runners and cyclists- of all ages- everywhere. Once, not too long ago, I pulled up to a stop sign and peered out- left than right- to make my right turn. With no car coming, I turned. I heard a huge thump on the back of my car. Perplexed, I looked in my rear view. A runner, angry at me for cutting him off, had slapped the tail of my car in frustration. I seriously never saw him. I wasn’t on my cell phone. I wasn’t talking to anyone in the car. I wasn’t in a hurry; I was simply going from the town post office to my house. The truth is I just didn’t see him coming up the sidewalk towards me. It’s a sidewalk I come up plenty of times, on my own runs or pushing Happy in the stroller, and I always stop there, afraid to cross unless a driver specifically waves for me to pass; I will not cross unless it is obvious that they see me. On the day the runner and I crossed paths, I think we were both in our own private worlds. He likely happy to be on a run, pleased with his time, and feeling like he was really visibile. Me likely so happy to be in a quiet car for a moment, no one needing me, happy to be invisible for a moment. Except, it turns out, he was invisible to me, his smack on the rear of the car showing me he was there, damn it.
I made the turn shaken. What if I had hit that man, I thought. How his life would have changed, how my life would have changed. Could either of us have survived it– him physically, me emotionally? That moment rattled me. Undid me. That man is someone’s whole world, I thought, and I could have taken him out of it just because I didn’t notice him. So now I look both ways twice when I need to turn in my town. I look for the cars on the roads first and then the runners, bikers, strollers on the sidewalk the second time because I never want to be so busy, so in a hurry, so in my own head, that I am not able to see and make way for the humanity all around me.
That statement, really, is the metaphor for everything that has meaning to me in my life- seeing and making way for the humanity all around me. But, today, I just want it to be the way that we all see the streets in front of us because the alternative is so ghastly, so life altering that the text message we are reading, the phone call we are making, the song we are singing, the conversation we are having, the dream we are dreaming is really pale and insignificant in comparison. Today, tomorrow, next week , next month, as you drive, stay present. Notice the Annas out there running, biking, pushing their babies, and make room. Not because they or where they are going are more important than you, but because they are equally important, and, to someone, they are the whole world.
* I should note that this is the second car/ bike accident in my small town in one week. The first accident resulted in a cyclist being airlifted to the hospital with life-threatening injuries. Anna’s accident, so close to the last one, makes me worry that these accidents may be becoming more common.