Dark Days and Bright Lights

One of the best rewards of guest blogging for CycleRecycle has been virtually meeting people from all over the world. New people have been following me on Twitter and I have enjoyed getting to hear about life in the United Kingdom. I don’t always understand everything I hear, but it is great fun making new connections that would have never existed without cycling and writing. Though they might not really know me, I have begun to think of my new friends as part of my daily electronic routine. I go through my Twitter feed and hear about cycling in the winter weather, how the traffic was, and how everyone is doing that day. It is a little strange to be hearing about days half over when mine is just starting out, but it has become something I look forward to each morning.
December 14, 2012 seemed like a black day for my cycling friends in Britain, despite some great news. The Tour de France is going to stage the Grand Depart in the county of Yorkshire with a stage ending in London. Everyone seemed to be ecstatic for this news, even if they were crushed about other news. Two court verdicts were being discussed, specifically the punishments for drivers in the death of Sam Harding and the accident that injured Times journalist Mary Bowers. Both drivers received minor penalties and were cleared of manslaughter charges. These verdicts came after BBC 1 aired “War on Britain’s Roads”, a television show that featured altercations between motorists and cyclists. Much has been written about the accuracy of the show, and I can’t do the issue service here. Google “War on Britain’s Roads” for many articles about the veracity of footage used and the framing of the topic. The result is the same no matter how true or not the program was; public perception shifted and the rhetoric seems to have escalated as a result. The proof of this is found on Twitter. Many motorists have taken to using the service to vent and threaten cyclists. You can log onto Twitter and look at the timeline of @cyclehatred to see what people have posted. Motorists threaten to run over cyclist. They have threatened to stab them as well. There have also been personal attacks on individual users, such as @cyclingdad who was called a homosexual with an invalid opinion because he rode a bike.
I can honestly say that I was happy not to have to ride in the United Kingdom at that point of the day. I wrote a quick note about not engaging internet trolls to cheer @cyclingdad and went on to my next Christmas errand. I wondered if the problem was the amount of road users in the cities, or if most of the problem was my perception. I was only seeing the vocal defenders of cycling highlighting the worst of the offenders, not the (hopefully) vast majority of the road users. I hoped that life in the U.K. was like life in the U.S.A. and that the vast majority of people try to do the right thing every day and a small cross section of belligerent drivers can ruin the perception of the rest of the population. Every time I watch BBC America I hope that the U.K. understands that we are not all a bunch of fat inbreeding hillbillies.
I checked Twitter again before entering the next store and couldn’t believe my eyes. There seemed to be a shooting at an elementary school. I thought that it must be a mistake and the initial reports had one person injured. After finishing up I checked again and had to sit down. I went to the story one person had linked. Reports were showing that multiple people had been killed, and many were children. Details were still scarce, but it was happening in a town 45 minutes from mine. A town called Sandy Hook. I had been there many times, and it is the stereotypical New England village. I couldn’t believe that there would ever be a problem there, let alone a devastating tragedy like this. Over the next few hours the police released the horrific details. Twenty children and six adults killed at the school. The shooter had committed suicide there as well. He had killed his mother before going to the school. No reason has been uncovered for the shooting. The authorities have said that the shooter suffered from a mental issue. I am still having problems processing all of the emotions. I cannot imagine what it must be like for parents to loose young children eleven days before Christmas. I cannot imagine what it must be like to lose your loved ones who went to work and never came home. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a first responder called into that scene.
Somehow, in all of this darkness there are lights. There is the teacher, Vicki Soto. She shielded her students by telling the gunman they were in the gym. He killed her, but she saved her entire class of children. There is Mary Bowers father. He managed to shake hands with the man that killed his daughter. Mr. Bowers found the strength to forgive the driver enough to hope he was spared a jail sentence. There are also the countless people that are reaching out to victims and offering support. In their strength and heroism these stories inspire us, and help us heal. A local media group had started a toy drive for the surviving children in an attempt to help their families. Local families in a neighboring town are volunteering to help prepare temporary classrooms for students so they don’t have to go back to the school right away. Teachers are going back to schools to be with kids, no matter how scared they feel.
It is four days after that black day, and I am still not sure what to think. No one will ever really know why any of it happened. Why was Mary Bowers critically injured? Was the driver distracted, poorly trained, or something worse? Her poor father has a daughter he describes as worse than dead, in 24 hour care at a hospital more than a year after her injuries. Why did the driver open his door sending Sam Harding into the path of a bus killing him? Was he not paying attention or something far worse? Sam Harding was moving in with his girlfriend that day. How hard must it be for his girlfriend when he never came home? Why did someone go into an elementary school and end the lives of so many children and adults? How can their families ever cope with that? How can any family deal with loosing loved ones, especially this close to the holidays?
I don’t know what to do to help any of this from ever happening again. I am sure there are laws that can be passed, or stiffer penalties to deter wrongdoing. I don’t know how effective any of that will be, but I hope our leaders try. I don’t know if someone who loses their temper and uses their car as a weapon would stop if they know they might go to jail. I don’t know if someone who snaps and walks into a school to kill children would be deterred by stricter gun laws.
I do know what I can do to help, at least as much as one man can. I need to drive and ride better on the roads. I need to make sure that I keep a calm temper and even extend a little compassion to my fellow road users. I need to think more about others and remember that we are all struggling under some burden. I don’t think a stranger’s kindness would have stopped the shooter, but it wouldn’t have pushed him further along either. I think that will help, and not only for myself. There is someone watching me now. My son loves going for rides in the car. I need to remember that I am an example to him, and not just with showing him the right way to use the roads, but in life. Brennen is already learning from watching me. I need to make sure he is learning the right lessons. Last weekend when the despair crept in from the shootings I took him to a grocery store. Together we bought food for the local food bank and dropped it off at a collection point. It’s a small step, but needed right now. I don’t know if we can change much of the world, but I know our kids can. I am going to do my best to teach Brennen to love everyone and treat them with kindness and respect. That will help, at least a little. That is what I have to hope will be enough because we can’t keep going on like this.

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