Op-ed: A painful accident with a dozen silver linings

By Rick Feinberg

After several chilly days, I thought I’d take advantage of some spring-like weather on the eve of our eagerly anticipated eclipse. My plan was to get in a 30-mile bike ride before setting up for an evening concert I’d helped organize. A few weeks ago, I bought a new pair of tires that promised high performance, combined with flat resistance. Everything seemed perfect.

Ten miles into the ride, I was heading south on state Route 44, preparing to make a left turn onto Sandy Lake Road. Rolling along at 25 miles an hour, I was startled by a loud explosion. Next thing I knew, I was lying on the pavement in the middle of the highway.

I picked up the bike and hobbled to the side of the road. My left elbow was sore with what cyclists call road rash, and a bruise on my left leg made walking painful. The rear tire was in shreds, and the wheel was shattered. Still, I was grateful to have I’d gotten safely off the road.

Looking around, I saw the car that had been just behind me. It was now parked on the berm. The driver and his wife (who I learned, is the pastor of a church in Newton Falls) had stopped to check on me. They were on an afternoon excursion and, when they saw my bike go down, they felt a calling to assist.

At the same time, a man and woman who were in a house a block away heard the explosion. Prepared for the worst, they ran toward the commotion. Melody and Ryan stayed with me throughout the crisis, offering emotional support as well as water and sustenance, while I phoned my wife and waited for her to come to the rescue.

Some unidentified passerby noticed the calamity and phoned 911. Before I knew it, an ambulance and fire engine pulled up to the intersection. I assured the EMS team that I was OK and didn’t require emergency treatment. They seemed reluctant to abandon me, but with my repeated reassurance they eventually went on to their next call.

No sooner had the medics departed than a highway patrol car parked across the street. Someone had reported a hit-and-run. One of the officers questioned me at length. At first, he doubted my assertion that there was no second vehicle involved. Considering the damage to my bike and the absence of witnesses (the pastor and her husband, by that time, had left), his skepticism was justified. But after a brief conversation, he accepted my account.

That was followed by a friendly exchange. I learned that he had recently become involved in cycling, himself, and found the episode disconcerting. I assured him that this was atypical; over the past forty years, I’ve logged about 80,000 miles on bikes, and this was the first time I’d encountered such an incident.

I have at times been critical of police behavior. But that day’s officers conducted themselves in a professional and friendly manner, expressing interest and concern for my well-being. They reminded me of just what a police force ought to be.

While I waited for my wife, as many as two dozen “Good Samaritans” came by to chat and offer their assistance. Some walked over from nearby houses; others stopped their cars and asked what they could do to help.

As of this writing, I don’t know if my bike can be salvaged or if the tire manufacturer will take responsibility for the mishap. The upper portion of my leg has a large, colorful bruise. When sitting, it feels like half a soccer ball has been stuffed under my skin, and some leg movements are painful. The medical assessment, however, is that there is no structural damage, and the injury should heal with time. I was able to walk to a nearby ball field and watch Monday’s eclipse, followed by a five-mile stroll. Within the coming week or two, I hope to be back on a bike.

Most heartening, however, was the empathy and support offered by so many fellow citizens. None of them knew me. They were men and women, black and white, and represented a variety of backgrounds. They saw someone whom they realized might need help, and they interrupted their established plans to lend a hand.

In a time of partisan controversy and so-called culture wars at home, combined with ethnic rivalry and military conflict through much of the world, it’s reassuring to see folks in our community come together to help one another in a time of need. Perhaps this experience, coinciding with the April 8 eclipse can remind us of humanity’s potential and encourage us to create a more cooperative and empathetic world.

Rick Feinberg is professor emeritus of anthropology at Kent State University. He is the immediate past president of the Kent State University Retirees’ Association and interim vice president of the Fulbright Association of Northeastern Ohio.

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