Sometimes beginnings slip into the room of your “world” with the ease of morning light at the base of a blind. You simply adjust your eyes and start mapping the familiar things that orient your waking from the place of your latest sleep. We’ll call it a bed, pillow and sheet; clothes tossed on the back of a chair; books by the lamp; the dresser where the dresser sits. Things gradually take their place in the world; they dawn on you and the day begins on its regular pathways.
Lately, however, the day in Montreal is organized less by the rising and setting of the sun, and more by the state of the city’s crumbling bridges. Many commuters now rise earlier and within an ever-changing web of detours and waiting. The city of “Mont Royal” no longer feels organized in relation to the mountain. Instead, the fact that it is an island is experienced more and more forcefully. The bridges are failing and the banks of the St Lawrence seaway are swelling. All these detours, unexpected turns, remapping of our routes…we are being swept up by the watery forces of the sea.
Today my sense of one of my favourite places to ride was also reconfigured for ever. The day began with cyclists battling traffic over various bridges to drive or ride to the start of our second annual TTTTT (Toguri Training Ten-buck Time Trial) on the Seaway bike path. The event was supposed to be light-hearted: a last-minute race to replace the cancelled Défi Gaston Langlois TT. The course was mapped and everything was in its place. Robert Ralph was at the turn-around, Michelle Paiement was timing, I was holding riders at the start and William Goodfellow was snapping photos. Most riders were already on course when we got word that someone had collapsed 2km from the start. They were not part of our event, but Nick Van Haeften stopped in the middle of his TT and administered CPR. He was joined by Daniel and Helene Gagnon. An ambulance and police arrived 8-10 min later but sadly the attendants were not able to revive the person who collapsed.
Back at the start, we cancelled the race. It was hard to know how to end such an event. The somber participants decided to donate their registration fees to the CIBC 401 Bike Challenge, a charity event organized by Gene Piccoli and his family. People just wanted to help–in any way–so they reached out to a good cause. The need to somehow connect was palpable because but the Seaway seemed like such an isolated, lonely place while we were waiting for the ambulance to come help a rider whose name I still do not know. We were just swept up by another event, and Nick, Daniel and Helene more so than others. Daniel and Helene are doctors who have experienced this kind of thing before but it was especially hard on Nick. I want this post to somehow convey something to those three, but I’m not sure what. I want to express not so much an idea but an experience: there is compassion, and there is something that for lack of better words I would describe as thick compassion, which is not shared through timely gestures but rather spread thickly and consistently to others around them. I feel that Nick, Helene and Daniel have the capacity for thick compassion every day.
Montreal is a waterstruck island. The Seaway is an isolated stretch of road surrounded by crumbling bridges, iron locks and the grey St Lawrence River. It is a place marked by the strain of a sad and wonderful compassion; and it is a beautiful place to ride.