Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
“Do not go gentle into that good night,” Dylan Thomas
More than 27 years ago, when I was 28 and my daughter, only three months old, a drunk driver hit me while I was cycling with a friend.
The impact broke my ankle bone, leading to a long 10-week recovery over that summer. But as I lay in bed when my parents visited me after I was released from the ER, when my mother said certainly I was done cycling, my dad rejected the idea, knowing I was already planning how and when to ride again.
I have been an avid recreational and competitive cyclist for about thirty years now, completing a significant number of challenging 100-mile and 200-plus-mile cycling events and rides.
Yesterday morning, Christmas Eve 2016, as I found myself trying to stand up from the pavement on the highway passing in front of my subdivision, my sight was blurred and my left hand was bloodied; my pinkie appeared as if someone had bashed it with a hammer.
I had just watched three of my cycling companions flipping and tumbling from the impact of the car that hit me and them from behind. Another five in the group were spared.
This morning, Christmas 2016, I suspect my life as road cyclist is over.
As I have aged, this moment has been one of the things I have anticipated and feared most because it had to happen; our physical selves inevitably decline and the athlete becomes who we were and not who we are.
Now, I don’t want to sound melodramatic because I plan to continue and increase my mountain biking as soon as my broken hip allows (sooner even).
I likely will still occasionally take the road bicycle on rail trails, and have thought about using some of the insurance settlement to buy a smart trainer so my second road bicycle (now the only) has a purpose.
But I don’t want to understate either that this accident in the wake of what seems to be a year of far too many other car/bicycle accidents and dog/bicycle accidents has left me broken—yes, my hip, but also my spirit.
I am afraid.
Among our nine yesterday were 20-somethings and the older crowd in our 50s and 60s; we, the cycling community, are good people, professionals and those who wish to enjoy life.
We were riding legally 2-abreast in the far right lane of a four-lane highway. The motorist was negligent, completely at fault.
But none of that matters to the cyclist airlifted to the ER and who now lies in ICU. Another close friend and I suffered significant injuries, and several very expensive bicycles were destroyed or damaged.
Even when we road cyclists are in the right, we lose versus cars.
The human body doesn’t just wither with age; the human body is quite frail against a ton of metal traveling 40 or 50 miles per hour.
Setting aside for a moment Dylan Thomas’s sexism, I am drawn to “Though wise men at their end know dark is right” because choosing to stop road cycling is wise but not acquiescence, not meekly choosing life over living.
Being human is in fact our mortality, our mutability—but being human is also having the capacity for fear.
As someone paralyzed my whole life with anxiety, I am acutely aware of irrational and rational fear.
Fear is not universally a negative emotion since it is grounded in, ironically, survival instincts— it can be our tool to “[r]age, rage against the dying of the light.”
These things can live with us in the sort of pseudo-movie slow motion of being a witness and a victim simultaneously.
As I rose out of the shock of being hit, I became aware of three other cyclists down, two appeared to be in critical situations.
We were just going out for a recreational 30 miles before spending time with families for the holiday. This is a hobby among friends.
That all seems quite trivial in the desperate moments of an accident.
Thomas ends his poem making his refrain-as-plea to his father, and as I lay in the ER, I saw my father’s hand when I looked at mine; when I tried to stand to leave, I saw my father in a hospital gown, older, struggling to dress as I was then.
So when I was home yesterday and we turned the DVR to Little Einsteins for my granddaughter, she came to me as she always does so she can hold my index finger as she twirls and dances to the opening theme.
My first response was to tell her I was hurt, but then I stood so she could dance before as she always does taking both hands and pushing me back to sitting so I can watch her watch the show.
I am already upset about the road cycling events I will miss now; this has been so much of my life.
But as I stood through the pain and watched my granddaughter twirl, I thought “rage, rage,” and know that missing those rides are pale things compared to that hand.