living life in a multicultural world
The mountain of colorful flower bouquets of different shapes and sizes are withering now. Soon nothing will be there. The place she died.
She was leaving her job at the Senior Citizen residence in town. I can imagine her, saying goodbye to some colleagues, taking her jacket and her bag, fumbling for her bike key. She got on the bike to go home and mere seconds later she was lying on the road — still, lifeless except for the trickling blood coming from her mouth.
I didn’t know her and I didn’t see her, but my husband was riding on his bike with our 5 year old on the back when he heard a loud thumping noise ahead of him. It didn’t sound good. He continued on the bike path and saw an overturned car in front of the Senior house right on the bike path. He put his bike on the grass and told my son to stay put, making sure he was slightly removed from the whole scene. He and four other men pushed the overturned car and helped an older man out. The man was in shock, disheveled from the impact.
My husband surveyed the scene and then he saw a hand on the floor peaking from behind a parked car. He leaned forward and saw the woman lying there, clearly lifeless. As more people rushed around and someone tried to give her CPR, he quietly went back to my waiting son and cycled back home, the letter that was supposed to go to the post office still in his jacket.
He was shaken, upset about the sudden loss of life. I made him a cup of tea and we talked about how quickly your life can change. We talked about how this anonymous woman’s family went from having a normal day to a devastating one. We cried for them and for her. We cried because it could have been my husband and my son. They had been riding on that same path. If they had left a few seconds earlier, it could have been them.
And then you see how vulnerable we all are. Not vulnerable in a Brene Brown-open-yourself-up-and-show-your-feelings way, but in a shit, we-could-die-at-any-moment way. I promised myself to make every moment count, to live life to the fullest, to embrace all it has to offer –and then, for some reason, I started to worry about biking.
My zest for life turned into fear of life. The following day when my 10 year old asked to ride his bike alone to school, a ride he was slowly doing more and more often by himself, I immediately said no and told him to walk.
Living in The Netherlands, I had wondered about bike accidents before this one happened so close to us. The proximity of this particular death made me revisit my ambivalence about the helmet/no helmet debate. In the United States, you are vilified if you or your children are not wearing a helmet. Every responsible parent requires their child to strap one on. Here, in Holland, everyone bikes and no one wears a helmet. Mothers with newborns in kangaroo slings bike alongside 5 year olds, occasionally putting one hand out to push along the tired toddler. No helmets. “There are rules,” my husband says emphatically as only a true Dutchman can. “They are followed. Bikes are sacred here.” “Like elephants in India”, I think to myself. “The car is always wrong,” he says. “Until someone on a bike dies and then who cares who is right or wrong,” I continue with my silent monologue.
I have read parenting blogs citing statistics of 85% decreases in bike deaths when someone is wearing a helmet. I have also read that this statistic is untrue and misleading as it only measures non automotive related accidents which are very small in number and most bike deaths occur with cars in which case a helmet does absolutely nothing. Opponents of mandatory helmets say that helmets provide both bikers and car drivers with a false sense of security, lulling them into taking more risks, therefore leading to more accidents. Conflicting studies take us all over the place and I can see the merits and truths in the two sides. However, my point in this post is not to discuss the helmet/no helmet debate.
My point in this post is to discuss how if we fall, we need to take a breath, get back on the bike and cycle towards the tulips. We cannot mitigate all the dangers that exist in the world. I could have been walking on that path as I do many times and the same thing would have happened to me as a pedestrian. Bad things happen and that is also part of the deal. We can be responsible, learn the road rules and signs along the way, but the bottom line is that life needs to be lived, not feared.