Today I have a story about kindness.
I can start this post with so many quips about how things can change in an instant and how you have to appreciate living in the now, I am in the midst of “Appreciating November” after all, but when you put it that way it seems so trite and so trivial. So overused. Anything can happen. There’s no guarantee for tomorrow. Carpe diem.
At 2 in the afternoon yesterday, my friend Nicole and I were “carpe-diem-ing,” headed out for our last long run before the Disney Wine & Dine Marathon this coming Saturday. 10 miles for me, 14 for her, at the Dunedin Causeway. It was really foggy, creepy foggy, really, I called it “creatures from the lagoon” foggy. As the boats would emerge from the fog, I pictured swamp-creatures emerging with them.
It was especially weird because the fog hung over the bridge only in certain places, from where we started running you could see it hanging over the causeway from a distance but when you were in it, the visibility wasn’t as bad as it looked and the microscopic water droplets felt good in the heat.
It blocked out the sun and it was all just very gray. I’d never seen anything like it before there, how the fog hung thickly in certain places and not in others.
We weren’t going all that fast, but I knew because of Franken-nerve that I wasn’t going to go very fast. Still I knew that finishing 10 miles was going to be a pretty big deal for me and so I was excited for it.We were on our second loop of the 5 mile bridge and approaching a last turnaround when we saw a man sitting on a bench. Because of the fog, I could only see that there was a person sitting there and not who it was yet and since I’m always cautious to the point of near-paranoia and because there wasn’t really anyone else around, I noted this and put myself on pseudo-alert as we approached him.
But as we passed, I took down my alert, he was an older man at least in 60s, with white hair, tall and skinny, and he was stopping for a break with his bike leaning up against the bench. He had on his white earbuds and was listening to music, eating a snack out of a ziploc baggie. Totally harmless. I laughed at myself.
As we approached the turnaround point where he was sitting, we passed him again, this time we made eye contact as we passed.
He held up his snack baggie as if to offer us some of whatever it was he was eating and we laughed about it, I waved back saying, “No thanks,” chuckling to myself that he just offered us his snack. It was cute and it was nice and it made me laugh.
We kept running on, we still had a lot of topics to discuss and about 2 1/2 miles left.
As we were going up the drawbridge and approaching the final mile of our run (we had made it 9 miles, hurrah!) the man we saw on the bench passed us on his bike going up the bridge. He said something to us but neither one of us heard what he said and I think we both assumed it was along the lines of what you say to people you keep recognizing when you keep passing each other when you’re out there running or biking in the same place.
A few feet later as we reached the top of the bridge, all the cars were stopped.
Some people were hunched over looking at something, some were milling around, and we slowed up a little because I was waiting to see the lights from the drawbridge to signal the drawbridge was about to go up.
It took a minute for it to sink in that there had been an accident on top of the bridge and that’s why everyone was stopped.
And there was the man.
He was on the ground, bleeding.
People were trying to help him and one man says he doesn’t have a pulse and does anyone know CPR? And I say to Nicole, “What should we do oh my God that’s the man!” And she runs down one side of the bridge yelling into cars if anyone knows CPR and I run down the other side yelling into cars, “Does anyone know CPR!” and I keep passing cars with people saying “no” and noting to myself how many of us don’t know CPR and also noting that it’s amazing how your legs that were concrete just seconds ago in the 9th mile become amazing once adrenaline is running through them and I find a couple who knows CPR and they run with me to the man.
There are now a few people involved who know CPR and it’s amazing how helpful everyone is in someone’s time of need. There is team work, there is counting, one person is on the phone with 9-1-1 and there are others trying to fix him. Others, like me, are praying.
It takes forever for paramedics to arrive but when you’re watching people work to get someone to breathe again, every second feels like an eternity.
All I could do on the side was pray and cry and beg for him to begin breathing, sit up and wave everyone off like everything was ok.
But paramedics arrived and they continued the work that the bystanders had begun as we wait for signs that he’ll be ok.
We didn’t know quite what to do and a deputy asked us why we were still there and my first answer in my mind was, “He offered us a snack!” which sounded ridiculous in my head, I mean, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t the snack, it was the gesture and there are so few moments of strangers being kind to strangers and I think that’s why it stuck with me. And I didn’t want to go before I knew he was ok.
I thought about who was going to be notified, does he have family, who would take his bike home for him, what was going to happen next, would he be ok?
The deputy yelled at everyone to leave and so we walked back to our cars without a resolution but I thought that if he survived I would find him and visit him because I felt oddly drawn to him, perhaps it was just the snack and the laugh or the camaraderie we shared with him on the bridge on the way to the top, I don’t know.
So our walking turned to running back to our cars and have you ever run while crying? It feels as if you’re hyperventilating.
We got to the end of the run, and we hugged and parted ways because Nicole still had four to run and I asked her to find out what happened when she went back toward the drawbridge to finish them.
On the way home, I was numb and still shaking. I drove to my church where there was a service going on and I snuck around toward the side, still in my running gear and I knelt down and cried and prayed for him and I lit a candle for him and I left.
I found out later that he didn’t make it. He hit a branch at the top of the drawbridge and he was thrown over his handlebars.
The thing is, I still can’t get his face out of my mind. Sitting there on the bench offering us his snack, listening to his music, without a word.
How could any of us had known what was about to happen? Why, on this day, that moment? Why? If I think about it too hard, I could get angry. I could want to rewind time and maybe wish I’d have stopped and if I had, would it have mattered?
But there is no “why.” I wrote about this just yesterday, I can’t answer why I can only rely on faith.
Earlier that morning, the homily at my church was about living the two most important principles: number one, loving God with everything in you and number two, LOVING EACH OTHER as you love yourself. And when you live those two, you cannot go wrong. Even if you’re not the praying type, I still don’t know how you could go wrong by living the latter.
At the very least in life, we have kindness.
I know absolutely nothing about the man on the bridge but I do know that in his last moments here on earth, he was kind to strangers.
And that strangers were kind to him.
The news stories about the bicycle accident on the Dunedin Causeway don’t tell the story of the kindness I saw on the bridge, that we witnessed first-hand.
From the moment we saw him on the bench to the moment we left the causeway. I am grateful for those moments, and for the rest of my life, I will remember Henry Ellowitz.
We’ve learned over the past week especially, that things can change in an instant.
I have no idea when my last moment will be but if I could choose, wouldn’t I want them to be being kind to someone else?
Yes. I would.
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