The preciousness of the mundane

Wednesday was the kind of day I dread for days in advance.  The kind of day when I growl, “For this I went to college?” and wonder if I am violating some sort of Massachusetts law by not having a chauffer’s license.

Drive one kid to school, another to work. (His car’s in the shop.) A music book that absolutely, positively had to be acquired by tomorrow only exists in a store 30 minutes away.  A kid home from work, then ferry to college.  Another pick-up at school.  Soccer at 4:30.  Traffic backed up on Main Street, the faint scream of sirens. Home finally, out of hay. The feed store closes in 30 minutes.  Soccer ends at 6.  College class out, 20 minutes away. Return kid home. Change clothes, unload hay,  back to middle school. Curriculum night.  Grumpy. Tired. Late.

Later than I think. The parking lot’s almost empty.

Hurrying in, pass a teacher.  “It’s been canceled; didn’t you hear?”  Relief.

But then, ominously, “I’m not at liberty to tell you why.”

Back home, check the news, looking for a bomb threat, fire, gas leak.

There. Oh dear God. Car-bike collision.  After school.

A ghost bike in Berlin. (Image via Wikipedia.)
A ghost bike in Berlin. (Image via Wikipedia.)

Hands fly to face.   The sirens, the traffic, my trifling annoyance.

Oh no, oh no, oh no.

The phone starts to ring.

Oh no, oh no, oh no.

Hopkinton is a small town hiding in the skirts of a big city. We talk a big game on Marathon Day, but when the last runner crosses over into Ashland, we pick up the trash, and go back to being a small town again.

On days when school lets out early, children roam the town like strays. They go to the library, the town square, the pizza shop. They sit on stone walls.  Ride their bikes on sidewalks and streets.  We maneuver around them, smiling and waving.  Even kids we don’t know are familiar. That one, we saw in the school play. This one came trick-or-treating. I wasn’t around in the ‘50s, but I have this idea that the way the town is now is much like it was then.

“Hopkinton is a small town,” one resident tells a newspaper reporter. “Everyone’s kids are everyone’s kids.”

Which is why we’re all in mourning for a child who wasn’t ours, but is.

Sometimes I talk jocularly about “Scary Bike News,” and it’s a wonder my kids even have bikes, given the amount of preaching I do on the topic.  I can discuss, with alarming detail, car-bike fatalities that occurred a thousand miles away. (Have I told you about the one on the James Island Connector?) And the hits, they just keep coming, like this one a few years ago, or this one, earlier today. Each time, I grouse that I’m not sure which should be outlawed, cars or bikes.

This is a serious problem for someone who believes in the greatest amount of liberty for the greatest number of people.  And for someone who loves bicycles.  And cars.

Have you ever seen a ghost bike?  They’re bikes painted white, silver or gray, locked to a street sign or post near a fatal crash. They are, according to a website that tracks them all over the world, “reminders of the tragedy that took place on an otherwise anonymous street corner, and as quiet statements in support of cyclists’ right to safe travel.”

Safe travel, yes:  we need bike lanes and paths. But do cyclists have the right to travel on busy two-lane roads with negligible shoulders?

I think not, every time I pass one, and my throat seizes up in fear.  No matter how slow I go, no matter how careful she’s being, I know a bump or hole could throw her into my path. And that a blink of inattention could propel me into hers.

Many years ago, when we lived in Charleston, I passed the aftermath of a car-bike accident on Harbor View Road. I didn’t see the cyclist, who was already loaded into the ambulance, but I saw the driver of the car, sitting on the side of the road, hands covering his face, grief-stricken.  I won’t soon forget it.

Nor the “terrible” day I had Wednesday, which turned out not to be a terrible day at all, at least not for me, because every single one of my kids came home — what a miracle, that —  and I got to hug them, and touch their faces and smooth their hair, even as they squirmed and protested.  They live to hear me preach another day, about the preciousness of the mundane.

And, when enough time has passed, again about Scary Bike News.

The family has requested that contributions in honor of Shayne go to “The Sky’s the Limit,” a courtyard project at Hopkinton Middle School. Checks may be payable to the school, 88 Hayden Rowe St., Hopkinton, MA 01748.

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