Today was my last day of work before I begin travelling. As the day dragged on my coworkers asked about my trip, where I would be going, what I would do with my time, when I would start out, how long I would be gone, what I would eat. They generally had two things to say about the trip: “You’re crazy” and “Stay safe.” I’m accustomed to hearing denouncements of my sanity; not eight hours ago as I was biking to work today and waiting for the light to change in the left hand turning lane of the Man O’War and Richmond Road intersection, some complete stranger pulled up next to me and yelled “You’ve got balls man!” before driving off. My biking shorts hang down to my knees so I assume he meant it figuratively about my bravery for riding aggressively (but safely) in traffic and not about a wardrobe malfunction that would be tragic for everyone involved. I just looked at him dumbly, smiled and shrugged. It’s not really that crazy. I’m just going to work. I do this everyday. Twice actually.
Let’s change gears for a moment. Four days ago an eighteen year old named Harry Delmolino was hit by a car while biking through Northhampton, MA. He remained in critical condition until he died of his injuries this morning. I never met Harry and never even communicated with him directly. I did, however, recognize his screen name on Reddit “no_numbers_here” where he was a moderator for the bicycling subreddit (that’s a caretaker of an online message board for you less net savvy types). You can click here and see a list of Harry’s posts, his last communications with the online community that he’d been a part of for over three years. He’s dead now. He’ll never post again, never ride again, never get married, never have kids, never nothing. Ever again. He’s gone and that finality makes me sad for the missed potential of his life and the grief of his loved ones.
Understandably, this has me thinking about the fleeting nature of life and the risk I’m taking every time I put foot to pedal and brave the streets. Maybe that guy was right and I have “got balls” and maybe my coworkers are right to say “You’re crazy.” Really there’s not much of a difference between the two. I do what I can to be safe. I always wear a helmet. I bought a RoadID to make sure my loved ones are made aware if anything happens to me. I try to be alert and aware while I’m biking. I consider “my safety” before “my right of way” when navigating dangerous or busy roads.
But those are preventative cautions. They lessen the risks, not eliminate them. Nothing I do will ever eliminate them aside from staying home and I’m not willing to do that. For me, the risk is acceptable. Maybe it’s even part of the appeal. We will all die one day. In fact of every person currently alive, all 7 billion of us will be dead in 120 years. That’s a sobering thought. It’s a little scary too.
So what do I (we?) do with this? I want to make the best of it I can. Here’s a copy of the top comment on the reddit discussion updating the community of Harry “no_numbers_here” Delmolino’s death:
“I’ve been following the story and I hate to be ‘that guy’ but the cycling community needs greater awareness of this issue. Whether you’re 18 or 80, if you ride a bike in a city, you need a living will. I’m a brain injury professional (physical therapist specialized in neurological rehabilitation and recovery). I followed no_numbers story and hoped he would be one of the miraculous few that can have substantial trauma and come out with a good outcome. This story is tragic and my thoughts are certainly with his family and friends.
If you want to do something constructive out of our shared grief, make your wishes known. Please. I’ve worked with cyclists, hang gliders, kite boarders, and many, many people just going about their daily lives when a catastrophic injury comes out of no where. Some recover, some have injuries too substantial to return to what a lot of us would call an acceptable quality of life.
Think about it. Talk with your loved ones. Do the paperwork.”
He’s right. These are important thoughts and conversations to be having. It looks as though I’ve got something thinking and some talking to do. I think that’s the best I can make of the distant death of another human who’s life ever so slightly crossed mine.
Stay safe guys.