There is a terrible stillness. A crowd stands on the ledge of the towpath overlooking the steep ravine below. Not a word. And the silent work goes on below, park rangers and medics wrapping bandage, setting the arm in a splint. The girl, about 14, is sitting up, her back curved under the red woolen sweater, her dark straight hair falling to her shoulders. She does not speak. In all that woods and water there is an awesome quiet.
Under my feet I notice the tire tracks of the bike. I imagine the way the bike must have curved and flown off the path and plummeted through the air some 40 feet to the bottom. Had she hit one of the huge boulders formed nearly 500 million years ago which erupted every foot or so from the floor of the ravine? The bike lay against the rise in the hill near the girl, the front wheel rim twisted, the grace of the spokes shattered.
Near me a woman weeps quietly. I wonder if she is the girl's mother. Or someone whose own sadness is jarred loose by what is seen here.
My friend walking along beside me was saying that this girl would have to go through this accident and its aftermath from this moment on. My friend who had been part of the French Resistance had seen her mother taken from her when she was 13, had lost her brother then as well and had the awesome task of falsifying papers in order to save her own father's life. I thought of the girl, riding innocently along on her bike, the puppy nearby on his leash, the leash which had gotten tangled in the wheel of her bike, which sent her sailing off the twopath, which changed her whole life.
The young men made a stretcher of a board and some blankets and carried her up the steep path to the waiting ambulance. She lay very still and small on her litter. The movement of her eyes told us she was still conscious. We saw her arm lift off the stretcher for a moment as she recognized her mother and then they transferred her to the waiting stretcher and placed her inside the ambulance. Her left leg doesn't seem to be working, one of the rangers told us.
Earlier my friend and I had talked about security, the kind which no one else can provide us, the kind which comes from inside. Yet at certain moments one cannot even depend upon what is inside.One moment the girl is riding peacefully along; the next she is flying through the air. The next, she is coming back to earth, trying to break the fall with an arm, a leg. What is broken is the body finally in its struggle to stay upright, in its struggle to live. We only forestall the end as long as we are able to, but we seldom have very much control over any of it. Sometimes another offers us the gift of security, but it often comes, that gift, when we don't need it or can't accept it. And just when we feel that we can provide the gift of security to another, we find that it has suddenly disappeared. We get sick suddenly in the middle of the night when we are alone. Or the plane we are flying in doesn't make it. Or there is a bomb at the Jaffa Gate to the Old City and we are helpless to move out of the way. Or the brakes lock in the car we are driving and we see another car coming toward us and there is nothing at all we can do to prevent the disaster we see so clearly coming toward us. Or we stumble at a curb.
I apologize to my friend for the accident as though I had personally arranged it. How strange.In all the times I had found comfort here alone, nothing like this had ever happened. This place had always seemed to me a refuge from the troubles of life. But I was not responsible for the accident of the girl. Life is full of accidents.
My friend speaks of the existential man, the one who carries with him his own code, his own morality. I remember a story she once told me about riding her bicycle a long distance in order to insert strips of plastic between the metal rails of track in order to blow up the train due to pass there carrying people to prison camps -- deportees who would then at least have a chance to run for their lives, to erase their names or numbers from the long list of the condemned. In that world there were children who looked up from the death camps to wonder why Allied planes flying over didn't bomb them. Certainly some innocent ones would lose their lives, some would be saved.
We went on walking that day. The girl disappeared from us. The small crowd dispersed. Our lives, there near the fall line between coastal plain and plateau, are fragile circles. Surely those boulders would outlive us. And the river that washed over them and withdrew again. We could, for a time, float out to the edge of a circle. We could touch another life, float in that space and in our own.