Ghost Bike

Corner of 100th and West End Avenue

I’m going to be serious for a change today. I noticed this bike tied to a light post while out riding with my boys. I’ve seen these white painted bikes parked at various points throughout the city. They cause a shudder every time I see one.

An organization called Ghost Bikes, which operates internationally, places these bikes as memorials to cyclists who were killed by motor vehicles. Their mission: “We seek to cultivate a compassionate and supportive community for survivors and friends of those lost and to initiate a change in culture that fosters mutual respect among all people who share the streets.” It’s such a poignant moment when I’m going about my daily business and  see one of these bikes on a corner. And if I happen to be riding my bike, it’s an instant reminder of mortality. They’re a brilliant visual, and a really powerful symbol as a memorial.

I’ve never seen one on the Upper West Side before, and this one is definitely new, because I cross this corner a lot. It’s also the first time I’ve seen a kid’s bike represented. I had my two boys with me when I discovered it, and I had to pause there. I sent a silent prayer to the parents of the boy being memorialized, and just sat in a stupor for a few minutes looking at it.

As a pediatric nurse practitioner, I have taken care of kids with cancer for more than 15 years. I’ve seen a lot of kids die. But I have a bit of an emotional callus, the ability to see these awful things happen yet  still function. You can’t work in pediatric oncology and be an effective caregiver if you’re a weeping mess. After my kids were born, a few layers of the callus got removed. Many families started getting into my personal grief zone, and I found it harder to remain distant. I also often saw myself in their place and wondered how I could ever handle it.

But this bike knocked the breath out of me. The sudden death of your child, or indeed any loved one. To contemplate this is to go to a dark place that I don’t like to be.

So please. Hug your family. And wear a helmet.

9 years old

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6 comments

  1. Shirlsmor · July 11, 2010

    Tuesday night, my niece was placed on the critical list after two days alone in her apartment with a raging infection of unknown origin, delerious with a 105 fever, and all systems shutting down. I sat in that hospital ICU room all night with my sister, listening to breaths going in and out. There are no guarantees in any of our lives. But if we really paid attention to that, we would all go insane. I salute you and your ghost bike. Hugs.

    • UpperWestSideCheryl · July 11, 2010

      Thank you, Shirl. And I’m sending many good thoughts to your family and hoping for a quick recovery

  2. Martin Smith · July 12, 2010

    I had only heard of these recently, when a local authority was talking of removing them for aesthetic reasons.

    An excellent idea.

    • UpperWestSideCheryl · July 12, 2010

      The Dept of Sanitation in NYC wants to remove them here, too. I think they should stay. There’s been lots of push from cyclists for more bike-only lanes here, and of course lots of backlash

  3. BillytheKid · July 28, 2010

    After reading more about this in the Upper West Side Spirit, I have to wonder if this is a hoax or legitimate. I hope its just a hoax for the family’s sake but if not, so sad. I had never heard of ghost bikes until just recently but regardless they leave such an imprint on one’s soul…eerie yet very powerful as mentioned in the article. I can’t help but reflect since my kids went to school at the synagogue.

    • UpperWestSideCheryl · July 29, 2010

      I’ve been reading the WSS, too. I don’t know whether to hope it’s a hoax or not. Awful either way.

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