Last Monday: I gather up my things, sling my bag over my shoulder, and grab my bicycle. I am headed from my home in Somerville to an afternoon shift waiting for me at my job in Jamaica Plain. It’s sunny, but cool. Sixty-three degrees or something. This is perfect weather for riding your bike.
Crossing from Cambridge to Boston over the Mass Ave bridge, I noticed two cyclists standing side by side in the bike lane ahead. I hate passing cyclists on the Mass Ave bridge; people drive across it so fast that dodging out of the bike lane to pass someone makes me nervous. Oh well--there's no one behind me, so I drift out into the next lane.
As I round the crest of the bridge, I suddenly see why they have stopped in their tracks. There has been an accident. A motorcycle and a pickup truck have crashed. A couple other vehicles are nearby; it’s not obvious if they were in the crash too, or just stopped because of it.
Both the motorcycle and the pickup truck are totaled. Broken pieces of the motorcycle are strewn all over. The horn in truck is blaring continuously, stuck somehow from the crash.
I can't tell how they crashed, or how the vehicles had been traveling. It is as if they are toys that were dropped carelessly by a child, tumbling randomly into their positions on the bridge.
At least half of the bridge is blocked off by the wreckage; cars traveling in either direction are sharing the portion of the road remaining open. No emergency crew has responded yet; traffic is still trying to continue around the accident.
Slowing to a stop, I see the bloodied body of the motorcycle driver. He is on his back in the road, a man over him administering compressions to his limp, lifeless chest.
“No way he survived,” I think to myself. I can’t help it; the vacancy in his bloodied face is too haunting for someone still alive.
His leg is broken at the shin, bones jutting out dramatically from the wound. It looks like someone tried to put his leg back into a natural position, but didn’t get it quite right. I can’t tell if it is still attached to him or not.
A cyclist joins the man doing CPR. With her helmet still strapped to her head, she takes over the respiration in between compressions. As she lifts her head, blood is on her cheek and chin.
Blood is pooled around the body, breaking off into a little stream that rolls down the bridge a little and pools up again. The blood in the second pool has turned thick, growing into a gruesome blob on the asphalt.
Nearby, a brown liquid pours freely from the pickup truck. Is it gasoline? Is it dangerous? The liquid forms it's own stream and subsequent puddle on the bridge. I hear sirens approaching now.
I hoist my bike over the railing and onto the sidewalk, and hop off of the road. On the sidewalk, I see the biker's damaged helmet. Why is it all the way over here? Did it slip off his head in the crash, and this is where it landed? Was it taken off for the CPR, and thrown?
Fifteen or twenty other people stand around on the sidewalk, watching. We just look on, helpless and horrified. All of us worthless, with no special skill or knowledge we could offer up that could affect the shocking scene before us. We just look.
Next to me, a woman is sobbing uncontrollably into the shirtsleeve of her companion who holds her. Did she see the accident? Did she know the man in the road? Was she the motorist who crashed with him?
A fire truck pulls onto the bridge from the Boston side, with another behind it. They will try to clean up the accident and get the bridge open again. I’ll only be one more thing in the way; it‘s time to go.
As I walk down the sidewalk, someone shuts off the horn in the pickup truck. At the end of the bridge, the railing drops from the sidewalk. I walk back into the bike lane, throw my leg over my bicycle and pedal away from the accident.
Such violent death is a shock to behold. We are all aware that death exists, and that people do die in these streets--hundreds every day. Still, it remains very unsettling to see firsthand.
Evidence of our mortality surprises us. We are forced to consider how fragile life really is, and it can be disturbing.
Just a block away, two cars run a red light. They missed the light by a long shot, conjuring up the blasting horns of nearby vehicles and a few people shouting out their windows.
The boisterous din of traffic seems especially vulgar after beholding such a grisly, tragic scene. What’s wrong with you? Don‘t you know someone was just killed back there? But they do not; they are still lost in their own moment and they must race on. My somber thoughts will not be shared here.
The last three miles or so of my journey unfold beneath my wheels, my concerns reduced to nothing in the wake of death. Death, so ultimate and unforgiving, leaves our problems meaningless and our plans trite.
I am grateful for my safety. I am grateful for my life.
I arrive at work, lock up my bicycle, and head inside. A coworker, Alan, greets me as I pass through the doors.
“How was the ride in today?” he asks. I blank, momentarily unsure how to respond.
“It was fine,” I hear myself saying in reply. “This is perfect weather for riding your bike.”