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Often times after a night shift I find myself driving aimlessly through the city streets. It gives me time to think, come to terms with the past, make plans for the future and simply enjoy the silence. I have no good reason for the direction in which I travel I never have but being one who knows nothing is an accident and there are no coincidences in life I have come to understand the universe has its ways of speaking to us. Unfortunately more often than not most don’t listen when it speaks or heed it’s lessons. I am grateful for the life experiences that have forced me to have honed my skill for hearing what it says to me and doing my best to listen to it.
Tonight was no different than any other as I headed out of River West driving west on Chicago Ave. As I said I had no particular reason for going down Chicago Ave. it was just a familiar route I knew would be quieter and less traveled than many city streets at nine o’clock at night on this cool Monday evening. For those unfamiliar with the area Chicago Avenue stretches from west leaving the lakefront through the bougie Magnificent Mile surrounded by hoity boutique shops, swanky hotels and old office buildings gone condo. Once over the river you can still get the feel of a once urban warehouse, industrial corridor sprinkled with what’s left of a forgotten neighborhood dotted with row houses and hidden gems of apartments on dead end dark quiet streets that abut the expressway close enough to hear cars whiz by all through the night. Chicago Ave. leads into some of the once roughest now on the road to gentrification varied ethnic enclaves and neighborhoods in the city. These dark streets have also in recent years turned into a thoroughfare for bicyclists riding to and from work and school through the crowded city streets in unruly often dangerous traffic. An idea forced upon Chicagoans by our less than forward-thinking city planners and onto a plethora of narrow roadways not designed for the heavy traffic and bikes lanes it shares.
As I crossed Milwaukee Ave. headed for the Chicago Ave. Bridge I noticed what looked like a tiny Asian women kneeling down and seemingly praying next to a pure white shrine that seemed to glow in the night. I looked in her direction and she stared out into the street at speeding cars and an occasional passing bicyclist. For whatever reason I was compelled to turn around and double back heading east to see the tiny lady again, this time as I drove by she stared at me as if trying to say something to me. Her lips did not move but she said something. I made a few more passes until I decided driving by was too creepy, I would stop as I really was just curious why she was there. Maybe it was that I was thinking of my recently deceased mother who had spent much of her life on this street and the thought that she too would often walk and pray Novenas for those she loved and missed and those of us still around who she knew needed all the prayers we could get. Whatever it was the tiny lady struck a cord in me, I was drawn to her.
I pulled up and exited my car slowly so as not to startle the woman. She stood and I stopped a few feet from her and waved saying hello when I noticed she held a large Rosary and prayed in front of a white shrine of another bike that was painted white and surrounded by flowers, photos of a smiling young girl and holy cards. These bright white painted bikes have become all too common on busy corners of our city streets representing the poor souls who have been killed by moving cars often speeding or driving recklessly though equally as often by bicyclists without regard for stop signs or the traffic around them. Regardless of who may have been at fault, these white angel bicycles have not gone unnoticed by me a life was needlessly cut short and that is all that mattered to me. I have seen many and have often wondered who these people were and what their stories are. A few times I have stopped to take photos, if only because I see some sort of beauty in the white angel bikes strapped to the rusted bridges and weathered streetlight poles where their riders took their last breath. There is a beauty in memorializing these people who like us were mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, brothers, sisters, friends and lovers of some other who cared for them. I often wondered who started this wonderful way of memorializing lost lives.
I didn’t know what else to say, all that came out of my mouth was “I am so very sorry for your loss”. I suppose I just wanted the lady to know someone noticed her, that her shrine had not gone unnoticed and her loved one was not forgotten. She simply smiled. Then she walked over and hugged me. She introduced herself as Silma. We shared a free and easy brief conversation. I learned the girl, Lisa Kuivinen was her daughter and she had died on this corner in an accident with semi-truck. Silma, her mother said she stopped by and prayed a Rosary for her daughter every chance she had. I asked her what she was like as I have learned it is more personal to know what a person was like than simply saying offering condolences for one’s loss. Silma told me Lisa was a twenty-year-old undergraduate student at the Art Institute of Chicago who grew up in the western suburbs and was living in the West Town neighborhood for the previous year. She was an avid bicyclist since childhood who rode her bike to and from school daily. Lisa was an artist and dancer who was creative and loved art and people equally and had a lot of friends many of whom came out regularly to visit her shrine and left photos, hold cards and small mementos in Lisa’s memory. Silma said, “She was uplifting, a beautiful, wonderful spirit who is doing great works for God right now.” Silma kept saying Lisa was doing great works right now. Yet, in her eyes I could see her sadness. Yes, we shared some tears and I promised her her daughter would not be forgotten.
What struck me the most was that Silma was not bitter and remembered her daughter’s life and death in the most positive way possible. She blamed no one even commenting that both drivers and bikers are at fault. I guess it was in Silma’s attitude that I found some much light and hope in a world that often denies us of that light and hope. I spoke of my mother and her love for the Rosary and Roman-Catholic religion. Silma asked me if I went to mass and I acknowledged that though I had fallen away from it I knew it was the church that had helped my mother get through her too often hard life. Silma smiled and said she knew that feeling. We shared some more personal stories with each other. I was surprised at myself that a day after so many had died needlessly, this one girl, Lisa, whom I never knew was a life, an important life, cut too short that mattered just as much as those that crowded the evening news. I guess I needed to know that after the many people I have lost that I have not become desensitized. I needed to know I had not lost my humanity. Silma helped me realize that.
I knew I had to stop this night, though I did not know why, until I stopped. I stopped and shared for my mother, for myself, for Silma and for Lisa. If only to let this tiny woman know the daughter she loved so much would not be forgotten and she too let me know my loved ones would not be forgotten. I stopped to not forget that in a world all too often deprived of common sense and empathy from r our fellow human that yes we still have an obligation to each other in this world.