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)|
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.