On Saturday afternoon, I was driving down Atlantic Avenue, and turned onto Adams Street in downtown Brooklyn, intending to drive over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan to pick up Mrs. TD. It became quite clear traffic wasn’t moving at all because Adams Street had been taped off by the police. I turned around and found an alternate route, grumbling about it.
Today, to my horror, I learned why the street was blocked, and it had nothing to do with the tropical storm rolling on in. Instead, it concerned a special kind of tragedy: an 8-year old boy on a bicycle was struck and killed by a turning postal truck.
And Zander Toulouse happened to be an 8-year old boy and a member of a family that I and my family happened to know. A sweet boy: the pride and joy of his parents’ lives. And just like that, he’s gone in an instant. And for what? The immediate (and most meaningless and unsatisfying) answer, of course, is that traffic in New York City is just extraordinarily dangerous intrinsically, and many of us pretend otherwise. Some might find satisfaction in finding fault with someone, somewhere, but it seems this was an absolute freak accident: a truck driver, not moving all that fast, simply failed to see a child crossing a street. Just like that.
Immediate reactions from children are that they simply shouldn’t ride their bikes in the streets of New York at all. And I wouldn’t be so fast to dismiss this. Even by American standards of bicycle unfriendliness, New York is peculiarly unfriendly, especially given the volume of its traffic and limited accommodations given to bikes. Though over here in Brooklyn, despite this still being true (though there are bicycle lanes, they compete with a vast array of other traffic, and are certainly not set off or protected from traffic)… people still bicycle, and indeed, the site of a family arrayed on their bicycles in a line, from parents in front to children in back, is a common one most weekends.
But these are not the real questions one wants to, or needs to, wrestle with over this kind of pointless tragedy. As I asked about when I talked about the death of my friend Norman (just a few months after the birth of his young son), we know none of this is “fair,” but just why is fair just not a concept with which this universe is familiar? Here was a sweet, bright child, just out for a God damned bike ride with his dad.
Those who believe in any kind of a just and merciful God, or in any kind of order in the universe other than the craziest of hazards and random occurrences, if you ask me, get the burden of explaining the reason for insanely horrible random tragedies like this and how they fit in their orders or schemes. Because I sure as hell can’t fit it into any orderly or meaningful universal scheme.
This, of course, is because there really is no explanation: this just happens. All we can do– or at least so we tell ourselves– is shrug, pretend our lives are not hanging on the outcome of some cosmic dice roll, and go about our lives as if there were universal truths and orderliness and meaningful principles and that our quotidian toils and tribulations were not simply larger versions of hamsters spinning their exercise wheels in terms of cosmic significance… as if in the face of such a reality, politics, or economics, or culture, or religion, or anything at all has any weight compared to the simple reality that we live in a world where sweet, wonderful eight year old boys can be killed in the space of a heartbeat— and not in the context of war in Iraq or Afghanistan, not in some far off neighborhood, and not perhaps nearby but involving some random kid I don’t know… but right where you are, any time, maybe even right now. And it can be a friend, a loved one, a neighbor… or you.
The only thing I can suggest– the only thing I suggest– is that the only universal truth of relevance is that no act of kindness is without meaning or significance. It does not change the brute ultimate outcome or random horribleness of it all– but maybe it’s all we have.
Beyond that? Just damned if I know.