Do not fear growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.
Through a sudden and thick fog east of the athletic center at Kenyon College I could just make out the shape of my red Tacoma, parked on the flattened grass with a handful of other cars, some with bike racks bolted securely on their tailgates. My niece Andi and I had been up well before dawn; I had the honor of driving her to the starting chute for the second half of her 200-mile fundraising ride for cancer research, and after a cheerful disembodied voice counted down the start, I watched her pedal slowly into a mist-shrouded sunrise, her cycling posture at once relaxed and determined. She and her fellow 300 or so cyclists selflessly greeted the promise of another grueling and satisfying day.
My shoes were dewy wet when I climbed into the truck. I pulled out my phone to send a text message to her ride support group and reassure her mother, my sister, that she’d gotten up and on her way just fine when I noticed the news alert about yet another mass shooting in less than 24 hours—the first in El Paso, Texas and the most recent in Dayton, Ohio. 9 people killed, several wounded; it was too early to know exact numbers, or if there was a second shooter. Headlines started rapidly doing the casualty/victim math for both shootings as I bounced from one news source to another, scrolling for more details. Behind me, 300 or so cyclists might or might not know the what had happened as they pumped their way up a steep and tree-lined hill, cancer survivors and departed loved ones riding tandem in their minds, heavy on their hearts.
Another sunrise. Another chance to do something right and good. Another day unfolding the worst nightmare for the ones left behind with unanswerable questions and now-stinging memories.
As I drove home through the deserted morning streets with the sun burning off the fog, I prayed for the safety—emotional and physical—of the people on those bicycles. My mind hung onto the families and friends of those shot in Dayton who were just learning how bad their loved ones’ injuries were, and I thought of the collective psyches and souls of my fellow human beings, wondering how much more our violence-weary spirits could bear. I know what’s coming: thoughts and prayers from elected officials, social media posts and comments arguing about the Best Way to put an end to this madness, vigils scheduled at local faith communities, the word “enough” forcing its way to the front line of our vocabulary. Again.
I’m writing this, so I was given another day to fill with accomplishments both remarkable and mundane, and as the west glows a burnished gold, I’m redefining “remarkable” in the new and tragic light of this morning’s horrible news. Remarkable now means walking out to fill the busy birdfeeders, making three batches of granola before lunch, and keeping the kitchen clean. I made it to and from my niece’s post-ride celebratory lunch safely, where I sat next to my brother, whom I haven’t seen in over a year. My husband has been outside working with heavy lumber and power tools, and his limbs and digits are still attached and functioning just fine (no surprises there; he’s our household’s self-appointed safety director, which is why I’ve not been on any bike rides in our two-lane curvy-road neighborhood in years).
At this exact moment, I feel deeply the need to renew my inner commitment to take nothing—Nothing—for granted. I’ve seen hard times, scary cliff’s-edge moments and near-misses. There are scars that hide the details of my life’s stories, which I’ll disclose (or not) someday. Yet here I stand, or sit, with another sunrise in my ledger (if I were even keeping track), and another sunset about to be added with humble gratitude. Somewhere out there, a philanthropic cyclist is icing down her muscles and putting away her “in honor of” jersey until next year’s ride. And somewhere out there, an exhausted father is looking for that one photo of his son, the one with the two of them mugging for the camera on that fishing trip, to add to the collage that will grace a table at the funeral home’s calling hours, once the body is released by the local authorities after their investigation and evidence-gathering is finished. Some will know the triumph of crossing a finish line, and some will realize that every good thing they’ve ever imagined and dreamt of has been turned upside down and shaken violently forever.
My niece finished and made us all proud. She rode for those who couldn’t. She cares, like so many of us do. Together we will find our way through this latest darkness. And if the sun rises again tomorrow, we’ll have another chance at the starting chute, poised and ready, and willing to do what we can do.
Get a good night’s sleep, dear ones. We’re gonna need it.