I live in the country. It’s very quiet here. Recently, after hearing coyotes, I’ve been listening more carefully at night, hoping to hear coyotes again, or maybe owls. The frogs and crickets are silent in winter.
A few nights ago, after friends visited, I stepped outside and heard something unfamiliar. It sounded like a train or big machinery, mixed with car alarms and sirens. The sound was low in pitch and irregular but steady, coming from the north and seeming fairly close. It was strange and disturbing.
A friend explained. This was the sound of dozens of fire engines and other emergency vehicles, escorting the body of deceased fire fighter Natalie Dempsey from her public funeral. This is how fire fighters and other emergency responders honor and memorialize their colleagues lost in the line of duty.
Natalie Dempsey, a member of the all Mizpah Volunteer Fire Company, died Christmas morning answering a fire call before dawn. She was 21 years old and had recently completed her training. Details can be found in the Press of Atlantic City.
Natalie Dempsey’s death is both a private and a public tragedy. The Mizpah Volunteer Fire Company (assisted by the Galloway Township Police and other agencies) took responsibility for the funeral held six days after her death. Fire companies from New Jersey and beyond sent members and equipment to express respect and solidarity and sorrow. I hope the dignity of the occasion gave some measure of comfort to her family and friends.
I hope I never hear such a sad sound again.
“Ride of Silence” is simultaneously an event and a movement. It falls into the thought provoking category of
CLUBS YOU DON’T WANT TO JOIN.
You don’t want a friend or relative to die while bicycling. You want to be safe on the road. “Ride of Silence” is an organization that commemorates the victims of cycling accidents AND advocates for bike safety and driver awareness.
Where to begin? Last October I was shocked to learn that an acquaintance had died bicycling on a highway a few miles from my house. I had not seen him in 15 years, but his name jumped off the newspaper page at me. He died on his way to work. It’s hard to imagine the shock and pain of his family, coworkers and friends. Michael Dare Gentile was a busy, respected school teacher.
Last week, he was honored in a “Ride of Silence”. I am so glad I was able to join that ride! Thirty or so cyclists and a dozen supporters gathered at the local middle school. There were brief remarks. The municipal police was present to provide escort.
We rode in pairs, and maintained silence. After 15 minutes, we reached the site of the fatal accident. A white painted bike has been placed there, far enough off the road to be safe from cars and mowing equipment. We placed flowers (and messages) on the bike. Then we rode on, silently enjoying the sunny spring morning. It fell to me to bring up the rear. I’m so accustomed to biking alone that I have no sense of how fast I “should” ride. Neither the ride organizers nor the police escort expressed impatience, so I contentedly finished the five mile course in just under an hour.
This was not ONLY a commemoration. It was a DEMONSTRATION, a statement that bicyclists are on the roads every day, and their safety is important. Drivers of motor vehicles need to obey the law and adjust their behavior to keep bicyclists safe. And bicyclists, too, need to be reminded – wear a helmet, keep your head up and your speed down, signal your intentions, follow the rules of the road.
If you see a WHITE PAINTED BICYCLE mounted near a highway, it marks the place where a bicyclist died. Do your part to keep everyone safe on the road. For information, Google “ride of silence”. National “Ride of Silence” day this year is May 17. It looks like there will be six events in New Jersey. Some are dedicated to the memory of a particular individual. Others are simply assertions that we all need to share the road in safety.