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Friday, July 17, 2015

When Tragedy Turns to Forgiveness

In the aftermath of the recent Charleston shooting, great note was made of the family member who forgave the killer.

This, too, is a story of tragedy and an act of forgiveness, one that made some national news and took place a month before the Charleston incident. Forgive the preface, but it puts my interest in this story into a personal light, not just sharing an old news story we happened to find online. And the end is worth waiting for.


Those of you who know me and the Gypsy characters best know that Rick is one serious cyclist. In the long-ago before he met me, he was a racer (and I'm really glad that was before we met). Now he's a distance road cyclist, riding with the big dogs, pelaton-style every week. His idea of a fun weekend is a hundred-mile ride and lately he's taken to bike camping, hauling his tent and stove on the back of the bike.


I, on the other hand, like my spinning bike at the gym, all but nailed to the floor where I won't fall off of it. The thought of riding a bike on a road -- a real street with cars, not the neighborhood or the back roads, but a busy road with SUVs going over the limit and so much more -- well, that terrifies me.



And it terrifies me that he does it too. We have had our share of incidents in the nineteen years we've been together, some of which have been written about here. I'm not sure if I was doing a blog when he was hit by a car when cycling in the Upper Peninsula. After all, a crash is a crash. But if you're nailed by the car, the car often wins.



Many cities have a Ride of Silence honoring fallen cyclists who have been killed by cars. It's a reminder to share the road, give bikes the space they need. And, to never, ever drive distractedly. When a cyclist has been killed at a given spot, they will place a ghost bike at the site to remind others to share the road.



All this is a preface to a recent news story from our little city that culminated a few weeks ago. Trust me, very few things from Lansing make national or international news. But this story hit not only the Detroit Free Press, but also the UK's Daily Mail, New York Daily News, the L.A. Times and networks (at least their websites.)

It all began last fall when Jill Byelich, a young mother with two children and a woman who was riding responsibly on her side of the road wearing reflective clothing and with lights on her bicycle was hit by Mitzi Nelson, a young woman who was checking a text on her cell phone.


We didn't know Jill Byelich, but when any cyclist is harmed by a car, its big news in our household. There was tremendous anger at the driver, a huge outpouring of grief for such a senseless accident and a lot of discussion as to an appropriate punishment to fit the crime. Rick felt that she should have to do some sort of public mea culpa, maybe PSAs or something where she told her story of driving distractedly and the price that Jill and her family paid -- and one that she herself would pay for the rest of her life in knowing she took a life. There was talk of jail, of restitution, how long a sentence should be. But of course, it would all be up to the decision of a judge.


The case was resolved during the first week of June and although there are those who said the settlement was too light (based on reading the comments in the various online news stories), I'm not so sure and neither is Rick. She ended up with six months in jail (the final 90 days may be deferred, depending on her progress), two years probation, and over $16,000 in restitution and court costs. But the two things most important in our book is that she had to do 150 hours of community service and speak to school assemblies or driver's ed classes about the hazards of distracted driving.

And, at the suggestion of Jill's husband, the judge prohibited her having a phone or electronic communication devices while she is in jail and on probation.

So, where's the forgiveness? Just ask Jordan Byelich who said in court he felt that she was remorseful for the accident. And then, as she was leaving the courtroom for jail, he hugged the woman who had killed his wife.Was it the cellphone ban that made the news or this moving and poignant moment? The cellphone prohibition is extremely rare, according to the National Safety Council. But so, too, is such a gesture of compassion and forgiveness.

Jordan Byelich hugs Mitzi Nelson as she prepares to leave the courtroom. (Photo: Rod Sanford, Associated Press, freep.com)
Can he truly forgive? Maybe. Maybe not. Nothing was reported that Jordan Byelich said "I forgive you" to Mitzi Nelson. But such a gesture carries within its generosity and care the seeds of forgiveness, if not the action itself. It is, perhaps, the most positive step he could have taken -- for himself, as well as for Nelson.

I'm very big on forgiveness. Sometimes it isn't easy. But anger or hatred over a wrong deed or action can tear at a person's life forever, perhaps even more than the deed itself. It can keep you awake at night, destroy your ability to think clearly because those demons come in and override your productivity. It can turn a person into a one-track broken record that plays the same annoying song repeatedly. In the end, the only one who pays the price is the angry person.


Jordan Byelich and his children will always miss their mother. They will grieve for years to come, sometimes intensely, sometimes in bits and bursts that will pop out at unexpected times. It will be an uphill battle for awhile and then the road will level out a bit. They will learn a new normal that they never planned on learning. They'll have hills and bumps in the road. Some days will be harder than anyone could imagine. But chances are that with love, an ability to share and talk about their feelings with each other, they will
be all right.


In forgiving, they will truly begin to heal. Their energies can focus on healing, on the life they have to live to make their future be the one Jill would have hoped to see.

After years of volunteering at a center for grieving children, one of the worries I always had was if the surviving parent was "up to the job." I'm pretty darned sure that Jordan Byelich is. If he can raise his children with the compassion that he has shown to Mitzi Nelson, I'm pretty sure those kids will be just fine.


And parting words? Please -- share the roads, keep off the phone, eat, floss and apply make-up only at stop lights and not if you are first in line (because that's really annoying to everyone behind you). Bicycles belong on the roads as much as vehicles. And the bottom line is: Would you want to live with Mitzi Nelson's story for the rest of your life?


And remember, that person on the bike might be your neighbor. Or your neighbor's child. Or Rick. Or a total stranger. But chances are, whomever it could be, he or she has people who love them, who would grieve.

Michigan's Ride of Silence, ending at the State Capitol, honoring killed and injured cyclists.

Please, it's cycling season. Be careful out there.

31 comments:

Tracy said...



Oh, Jeanie! This is very timely given all that's been happening in the world, and one of the world's most family cycling events happening... That Ride of Silence is a beautiful things... WOW... We all need to share the road better. We all need to share a lot of things better with our fellow brothers/sisters. Thank you for this wonderful reminder. It's so good to catch up with you here... and sooo enjoying your PARIS posts! :o) You'll never guess... I started a photo blog. Yup, blogging again... LOL! this officially makes me crazy... but we all knew that already, right?! ;o) http://simplegiftspictured.blogspot.com ((HUGS))

Victoria Zigler said...

What a beautifully written and touching post.

You're right... To heal, people need to forgive. Not forget; that's impossible. But forgive.

Also, people need to learn to pay more attention when driving, and not fiddle with phones, make up, etc. If you need a bit of extra time to do your make up, or to have that morning coffee, get up earlier, or leave earlier. If you need to check that text that just came through, or answer the call you just got, pull over, and if you can't do so at that moment, leave it until you can pull over safely; the text can wait a few minutes, and you can always call the person back.

So many accidents could be avoided if people weren't in such a hurry to get nowhere, and so eager to fit more in to their day than is realistic, that they take stupid chances so as to be able to do so.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

This is such a loaded post.....filled with so much truth, reminders of taking responsibility every time you are on the road, and the responsibility to forgive. Surely it is not easy, and harboring unforgiveness eats away at you until the heart opens its doors. Forgiveness can be one of the most if not THEE most powerful key to a new life that may not necessarily be free from grief, but an empowered life to move on. GOD BLESS RICK and YOU, Jeanie!

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

This post brought tears to my eyes. I can't imagine being able to hug the person who was responsible for the death of my spouse - it takes a big person to do that. But like you said, forgiveness is essential for healing because holding onto anger can be poisonous.

I read a book years ago that has a passage about forgiveness. It's stuck with me ever since, so here it is paraphrased: "We are chained to that which we do not forgive... Imagine a ship trying to set sail while towing an anchor. Cutting a gift to the anchor. You must release that burden, not because the anchor is worthy, but because the ship is."

Beth M. said...

I'm tired at the end of every day, trying to reach my feelings of forgiveness.

Thank you for sharing this story and, in it, the reassurance that it's possible to get there. <3

Annie said...

What a tremendous service you provide here, Jeanie. Not only do you tell a beautiful story of steps to reconciliation but you provide a lesson that must be taught over and over again.

shoreacres said...

This is a terrible, yet touching story. And I think your points all are well taken, from our need to be aware of bicyclists to the need to forgiveness.

And yet... just last week I nearly hit a bicycle rider who should have known better. He had a racing bike, the requisite gear, the lights, and the helmet. And I had a green light, and was going through an intersection, just as he ran a red light and crossed right in front of me while going at a pretty good clip. If I hadn't swerved, and if the oncoming traffic hadn't swerved, he would have been all over the pavement.

I don't know how things are in your area, but too many bicycle riders in our area turn against red lights, run red lights, bunch up in the middle of the road instead of using bike lanes, and give the finger to any motorist they disapprove of.

Both sides need to give some consideration to ways such terrible, terrible events can be avoided. I very nearly was that woman who hit a bicycle rider, even though I wasn't texting, talking, eating, or changing the radio. It scared me to death. We're lucky no one died or was injured.

Joanne Huffman said...

A very thoughtful and personal post.

shoreacres said...

Something else just crossed my mind. There are bicyclists, and there are bicyclists. Here's an example from another world: boating.

Most of the fishing charter captains I know, and most experienced boaters I know, never, ever go out on the water on Memorial Day, July 4th, etc. As they say, with some humor, "It's amateur hour." And it really is true. People who haven't had their boats out in forever, who don't know the rules of the road, who drink and boat, and generally just aren't very good boaters get out and do their thing. They have the boats, the tee-shirts, the bikinis and the beer, but they don't have much expertise.

The same thing probably is true with bicycle riders. Fitting into spandex and being able to purchase an expensive bike is only the beginning. Those who think, "Gosh, I think I'll get into this," but who don't take it as seriously as people like Rick, can create really bad feelings toward bicylists as a whole. Mama used to tell me about one bad apple spoiling the bushel, and it really is true. While we're learning to forgive, we also need to remember to judge individuals, not groups!

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

Oh, Jeanie! Such a touching story on so many levels -- your concern for Rick, the story of Jordan and Jill and Mitzi. You're so right that forgiveness is necessary for healing. In letting go of rage and resentment, we gain so much. Not easy, to be sure, in a case like this. But so good for all when it happens.

Kitty said...

Dearest Jeanie, You have a wonderful gift for writing and sharing your love and passions. Thank you so much for this post. It definitely deserves to be shared and I will definitely do that. You are a special lady and I thank God often that He brought you into our family. Love you.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to say excellent post today. One other really important thing I'd like to say is:
EAT, FLOSS AND APPLY MAKEUP AT HOME, not in a vehicle moving or stopped.

littleRamstudio said...

Here in UK it's a similar story of cyclists loosing their lives too easily on the roads. One of the reasons we loved living in France was the opportunity to cycle for miles on very quiet roads and when a car was encountered the drivers usually showed curtesy to the cyclists. Back here the last time we rode our bikes Gary was nearly knocked off twice by idiot car drivers turning without first checking for bikes. That was the last time we went out cycling. Such a shame as it was a pastime that we enjoyed so much.
Heather :)

Tammie Lee said...

thank you for sharing your stories, thoughts and information. this is a meaningful and inspiring post. i really don't like cell phones, except for emergencies. forgiveness..... something we can all learn from and be inspired by.

Marilyn Miller said...

This post is so poignant. I am always so sad when I see a ghost bike. Definitely we must be cautious and take care around bicyclists.

Sue in the Wood said...

Thank you for sharing. It's a wonderful, personal post!

Karen S. said...

Excellent post, well crafted and let's hope we all begin to take our driving serious, and pay attention on the road at all times. It so applies to walkers as well!

jo(e) said...

Such an important reminder. I've learned to put my purse in the back seat (out of my reach) so I am not tempted to look at my phone when it chimes.

Retired English Teacher said...

This beautiful and timely message really is one that more should read. You address so many issues here. Distracted driving is so common these days. You see these drivers every time you are on the road. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing for all involved. And then, there is the message about sharing the road. We live on road that is almost a country road. It is narrow and a bit twisty. It leads to the foothills. There are wild life along the road. It is a road that bikers love to take. It is also a road where some refuse to follow the speed limit and the "no passing" signs. It is scary to me when I drive it when there are a lot of bikers. I am just sure one of them is going to get killed because of the number of distracted drivers out there.

bj said...

A very heartfelt post...thanks for reminding us to watch carefully for bikers ...
I've pulled off the road many times when I come up on one and can't pass at that time. I just wait until I can....
Bless your hubby's heart...he looks like he loves it.

Jennifer Richardson said...

Such a great post, Jeanie.
I believe in forgiveness because I believe in life
and I just don't think we can live on this earth
and not have an awful lot to forgive (and be forgiven for).
It's awful, the bitterness that sets in when hearts get
clogged with the resentment that eats away like a cancer.
Forgiveness is freedom. You're right....so much energy given
over to bitterness that could be used for showing up to life.

Thanks for the reminder to watch carefully for the cyclists
among us.

I appreciate that. And you:)
-Jennifer

JoAnn said...

An excellent post! My daughter is a serious triathlete and I always worry about her out there on the bike. I'm sending her the link to your post.

Barb said...

Jeanie, You know we are a biking family, and we try very hard to follow the rules of the road and act with courtesy when on the road with vehicles (it's really not necessary to ride several abreast on narrow roads). We always try to be aware of traffic around us and certainly prefer rec paths to roadways whenever possible. This weekend, my son is participating in a 3 day bike ride to raise money for Children's Hospital. Sometimes, it's even more dangerous when large groups of riders are on the roads because motorists get very impatient and begin passing too fast and too closely. Even when I'm driving in a car, I'm aware of drivers of other vehicles who are distracted, many times by their phones. It's even more scary when on a bike, seeing a vehicle abruptly adjust from swerving too far to one side or the other - you know they aren't keeping their eyes on the road. When on my bike, even if I have the light or stop sign in my favor, I ALWAYS make eye contact to make sure the driver is seeing me and is willing to let me proceed. Forgiveness may be one of the biggest challenges in life. If we can achieve the grace to forgive, our burdens become lighter. A great post, Jeanie. It struck a nerve with me!

Wandering Wren said...

Such a poignant post Jeanie, such a needless loss of life on both counts, Mitzi's life changed forever too that day and that hug from Jordan hopefully has sent a message across the world for us all to be so careful when driving. I hope that in reading about this that we are all reminded that the phone call or text message can wait when we are behind the wheel, nothing is more important that we, our passengers and those on the road around us get to our destinations safely. I speak as a family who has been touched by the road toll and once you have lost family members, your life continues but it is never the same.
Thank you for this post.
Wren x

Cheryl said...

Very thoughtfully, well written. Forgiveness... we should all be so courageous and to forgive those that hurt our hearts.... it isn't easy and when you see someone doing it, it gives you hope... hope that you too can do it. Me... not quite yet.. but getting there :-)
big hugs,
Cheryl

Esme said...

Thank you for this. The ride of silence is very sad. It terrifies me as I see so many drivers driving distracted. Everyone thinks they will never hit someone-but all it takes is a moment on inattention. Maybe your husband and I can ride one day.

Jenny Woolf said...

I sometimes feel the idea of "forgive" is a little off the point. Not-forgiving also has a purpose in life. Some things, actually, cannot be forgiven, and I am inclined to think that nobody can forgive someone who takes the life of another. That right is given only to the dead person, and we do not know what they would have thought. I prefer to think in terms of compassion. This woman did a terrible thing but she did not mean or intend to. She has been punished according to the law, so why pillory her? It can't do any good. We can all do stupid and bad things for all kinds of reasons and are fortune usually that there are not serious consequences.

Compassion seems to make more sense than forgiveness to me. I heard a Holocaust survivor on the radio talking about how she forgave in order to create a better state of mind for herself - she did not want others' actions to dictate how SHE was feeling.

BTW Is it illegal to look at phones while you're driving where you are?

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

This is a very powerful post, and memorable. I don't use my phone at all when I'm driving, but I still see so many who do. Or who pull into traffic without looking for bikers or pedestrians. We have plenty to fear from cars!

A Magical Whimsy said...

It's the same way with motorcycles. People just don't 'see' them. In this busy world of ours, it seems to be we all have to stay in contact with our friends every moment of the day on cell phones. I think we need to give our cell phones a 'rest' now and then, and not act like our lives depend on it, and as an obvious fact, the life of someone else did depend on another person 'having' to text something that could have waited, and definitely not while driving. I have made it a habit NOT to check my texts or answer my cell phone while driving. It is the law in many states not to text or answer your cell phone. If I feel it is important, I will pull over to the side of the road, if it is safe, and then I will check my cell phone and text or answer back.
And then again...those who do professionally ride bikes do know the dangers on the road, a curve in the road, a narrow road, etc. My nephew and his wife do the long bike rides and I pray for them a lot. That's all I can do really. We all have our choices and some die loving what they like to do.

Keicha Christiansen said...

I'm catching up on blog reading and am so glad I took the time to go back and read this one. You're so right about forgiveness. It's a very necessary part of healing. I'm struggling right now to forgive and let go of many things that I've let fester and built up huge resentment about over the last 4 1/2 years. Mike and I have finally ended our relationship and I know letting go of my resentment towards him over things he said and did is something I need to do so I can move forward in a positive way. It's a big struggle for me right now, so thank you for your very timely post. XO

Arti said...

Informative and yet very personal and moving. Thanks for this much needed post, Jeanie!

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