Sometimes you hear a story in the news that you can’t get out of your head. A friend is obsessed with the story of an older couple who refused to leave their homes during our wildfires this fall, because they thought they would be safe in their cement bunker. Tragically, they didn’t survive the intense fire, and my friend wants to know why their children or officials didn’t make more of an effort to persuade them to leave.
A story that has obsessed me for the past month is the senseless death of a 71-year-old man who was attacked while riding on a bike path not far from where I live. Apparently, his assailants wanted his bike, something scarce and valuable in a time when people feel the need to escape their homes.
Two days before I read the article about his death, I was on that same bike path, although on the opposite (west) end. I’m also the same age as the victim. I can’t help but think that easily could have been me. It’s a reminder that death can come any time, out of the blue and in the least likely places: a public bike path on a warm day, to someone just enjoying the fresh air and sun.
After the initial reporting, I searched the newspaper every day to find out what exactly happened. Although the details were sketchy, it sounds like three men went to grab the victim’s bike, and in the process the victim was injured badly enough that he died a week later. Did he fall and crack his head or did they rough him up enough that he couldn’t survive his injuries? Or did he have a heart attack in the process?
The article described him as “elderly.” It’s always a shock to realize that society sees people my age as elderly. In my outdated view, “elderly” refers to my grandmothers who wore long, droopy dresses and black chunky shoes, or to residents of a nursing home who are frail and maybe suffering from dementia. Is a 71-year-old who still rides his bike frail? Maybe we’re fragile because we’re not strong enough to fight back or because we’re susceptible to heart attacks or falls that can kill us.
Or maybe we’re easier prey to bike robbers because we’re older and can’t put up much of a fight. Like sidewalk thieves who grab the purse off the shoulder of an older woman, guessing she’s not strong enough to hold on.
I still don’t know what happened to cause the bicyclist’s death, but I did finally read that a man in his 30s was arrested. Under the law, the alleged perpetrator could get an additional charge for an attack on a “vulnerable” person, which includes people with disabilities as well as the elderly.
And now, being a “vulnerable” person means being able to get Covid-19 vaccine shots ahead of the general population. Because people over 70 are dying in greater numbers than other groups, it makes sense. I may not want to admit to being vulnerable or fragile, but reality–whether in the form of Covid or riding a bike—indicates otherwise.