That's my helmet, my bike path.
Two relatively short stories coming up. There have been complaints from the peanut gallery that my posts are too long. For the record, in my defense, I did not write President Obama's speech.
Okay. You should know, before we begin, that if there were an avatar of me right this minute, it would be Therapydoc, Sad. News has it that an SUV rolled over a neighborhood five year-old on a bike crossing an alley. Now she's gone, going on two weeks now, an innocent little girl.
Three young mothers, all patients, called me the week it happened, distraught. Another parent spent twenty minutes of appointed therapy time discussing the tragedy.
"It could have been my kid, my five year-old."And,
"What do I tell her?" Meaning what do you tell a mother who has lost a child?You say nothing, is what you say, when you visit a mother who has just lost her child, but hold her hand if she's amenable, sensitive to the fact that she might not want to be touched.
And we're not even to the stories.
I'm riding home from work last night at dusk along the Chicago River. The path and surrounding greenery are all park district, the only real dangers--
an occasional Chicago cougar, the feline type, not the human
people who don't understand that On your left! is a warning about an on-coming bicyclist,
and kids on tricycles.
If you wear a helmet, the birds don't bother you. And if you're a nice person, you don't mind slowing down for children. Nor do you mind shouting, YO! instead of On your left! to get the attention of folks who don't speak much English, people who also have a right to the path, even if they're just walking.
Of course, if you're all about you and aggressive at that, then these things, especially people in your way, bother you a lot.
Let's break for a rant:
People everywhere are riding bikes without helmets. Gorgeous, slick, young people who should know better, windblown and smiling. It bothers me, this carelessness, because I picture them fallen to brain trauma or worse, death.
This has nothing to do with that little five year-old girl, by the way, something altogether different, you can't hold a child accountable. But it seems fairly obvious that accidental death and morbidity are not reserved for reckless automobile drivers, luckless pedestrians, and motorcyclists. Some call the latter organ donors.
So readers, help me on this one. What's with the denial? Is vanity that important? Is it? Am I missing something? Because the ugly truth is that if you're going to ride, you're going to fall. It has to happen.
There. I feel better.
So I'm riding along and coming toward me is a little girl on a little two-wheeler. Her blond hair is sneaking out of a white helmet and her eyes lock on mine. She's talking to me with defiant, proud, six year-old girl eyes that say,
"See? I can ride. I can ride this. And this is my bike and there is nothing like it, me on my bike, nothing stopping me. I'm free."Me, fifty years ago. And probably many of you, too.
You have to give credit where credit is due, when you learn something from someone. So I'm glad for that incident with Professor Gates and Sgt. James Crowley this summer. Especially for that delicious use of language, The Teaching Moment.
Sgt. Crowley, if you recall, arrested Professor Henry Louis Gates for breaking into his own home. Generally white people aren't arrested for suspicious behavior like breaking into their own homes. But people of color are suspicious for breathing, even now, depending upon the zip code. (Check out a good novel about racism, Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. You're always asking me for book recommendations, and the truth is I don't read as much as I'd like. But Mudbound is worth the trip on many levels. I especially like the marital relationship and women's issues).
Anyway, Professor Gates is a man determined to use everything that happens to him as class material. He's the master of the teaching moment and referred to the incident with Sgt. Crowley as a way to educate people, in this case a very, very, very large number of people, the entire intercontinental news guzzling public.
Professor Gate teaches about race relations. And hate. Hate is about scape-goating, triangling really, marginalizing others to feel better about one's self. In therapy we sometimes use a psychological defense to describe this process, displacement. She's the problem. He's the problem. They're the problem. Blame them. Couldn't be me.
Unfortunately, President Obama inadvertently ratcheted things up, made a bad situation worse by saying that Sgt. Crowley "acted stupidly." But he took it back right away with this marvelous syntax
". . . I could have calibrated those words differently.”Calibrated.
President Obama and Vice President Biden (almost forgot his name!) sat the professor and the officer down for a beer in the White House gardens to make amends, to desensitize them. The VP drank a non-alcoholic beer and the President drank the most popular beer in America, what else, Budweiser. Thus the incident became the administration's teaching moment: (1) don't drink, (2) if you do, drink like your brother, and (3) for heaven's sake, get to know your neighbors.
And that very day, I had my own teaching moment.*
I'm riding the bike to work; it's a little muggy, but we'll take it, no rain, and a diminutive fellow from southeast Asia passes me on his bicycle, one that he surely threw onto the boat to America. The bike has the wide tires and baskets that allow for balance, lend it to tricks like, Look Mom! No hands!
Anyway, he sees me riding behind him and flirtatiously throws his arms out, does that trick we used to do as kids, rides with no hands, arms out to the side. He's clearly enjoying showing off and I'm enjoying the show. Except it bothers me, you know. No helmet.
Being me, when he turns the corner and peeks back, I smile and shout,
"Where's your helmet?"He doesn't get it, smiles incomprehensibly. I tap mine and he nods a universal, if exasperated, I know. I know.