Friday, October 14, 2011

When mortality stops by to shatter our illusions

Earlier this week, a 33-year-old female cyclist was killed in a traffic accident about three blocks from where I work. When I heard of the accident, I was immediately taken aback. It happened so close to my office, on a street I've cycled and walked on numerous times to someone who could have been me. A thirty-something woman on her way to work on a bike.

A "ghost-bike", painted entirely in white, was set up in her honour where the accident happened, and bouquets of flowers have piled up on and around it. I followed this story in the news, from the initial report of the accident, to the identification of the victim, to the notification of family members, to details of her funeral service. I felt compelled to walk down that street and see the memorial for myself. Upon approaching that ghostly, silent, white bike, I turned off my iPod, and suppressed tears. 

Why do I care so much about a stranger? Someone I didn't even know? Because on some fundamental level, we're all the same, in this human condition, experiencing life and facing death.

I struggled with the fact that someone died, on this busy city street, and now, life hums along, as if nothing had happened. I thought about her family, who had seen her just the day before her death, Thanksgiving Day, and who probably assumed they would see her again. 

I think of her, getting up that morning, getting ready for the day ahead, brimming with life and possibilities, not knowing what was about to befall her. None of us do. But somehow we think we'll know, that death won't surprise us, that we'll be ready, that it'll be expected. But we're just deluding ourselves. We don't know anything for sure.

I think of what must have been her last moments, lying face down on hard asphalt after having been hit by a car door that unexpectedly opened directly in her path, throwing her  into oncoming traffic, where she was run over by another vehicle. She was surrounded by strangers who tried to help, lifting the car under which she was pinned, calling 911. 

I think of the person who opened that car door, in a moment of carelessness, and of the driver of the car that hit her, and how their lives are also forever altered. Perhaps there are worse things than death, like figuring out how to continue living after having killed someone, how to get past deafening guilt, how to forgive oneself. 

In the blink of an eye, everything can change.