Life, death and other such mat­ters

The Covington News - - Opinion - MAU­RICE CARTER

I’m glad to be home, in my of­fice, typ­ing on a real com­puter – not fum­bling around on a tablet in the dark, late at night, in a far away B&B. But in many ways, I’m still not back from my Pitts­burgh to DC bike ride. I’m happy to be with fam­ily and friends, sleep­ing in my own bed, eat­ing what and where I want, but other as­pects of reen­try since ar­riv­ing home Mon­day morn­ing have been less easy to han­dle.

For ex­am­ple, de­cid­ing what to write has been dif­fi­cult. There are plenty of op­tions – many in­spired by time spent in our na­tion’s cap­i­tal be­fore and af­ter the bike ride - but I can’t bring my­self just yet to jump back into the po­lit­i­cal fray.

Iso­la­tion from cur­rent events was one of many nice byprod­ucts of a week spent pedal­ing in seclu­sion through wild­ness and back­woods towns. For six days on the Great Al­legheny Pas­sage and C&O Tow­path trails, eight hours daily were spent just get­ting from point A to point B. Days were about self-pro­pelled travel sprin­kled with re­fu­el­ing and rolling sight­see­ing. Evenings were ded­i­cated to show­ers, bev­er­ages, food and sleep – in that or­der, as quickly as pos­si­ble. Half the places we stayed didn’t have TVs. In those that did, sleepy eyes took in lit­tle of what came across the screen be­fore I drifted away.

I kept friends updated on our trav­els via Face­book, so I tripped over snip­pets of news and pol­i­tics on my smart phone. But noth­ing could stick for long; I had too much else go­ing on to be con­cerned with events so far away and not rel­e­vant to the task at hand.

Maybe that’s part of the prob­lem. Per­haps we have too much time to worry, fret, and grow an­gry over events of the day? It’s a fine line, for cer­tain, as the lack of all car­ing or con­cern is a sure recipe for things to run amok. The trick seems to be car­ing with­out car­ing so much that we con­fuse events that feel like life and death with that which truly is life and death.

I had that strong feel­ing last Fri­day, stand­ing on the sa­cred grounds of An­ti­etam Na­tional Bat­tle­field near Sharps­burg, MD. Site of the blood­i­est sin­gle day of fight­ing in US his­tory, the corn fields, pas­tures, and hill­sides around An­ti­etam Creek were soaked on Sept. 17, 1862 with the blood of 23,000 con­fed­er­ate and union sol­diers who were killed, wounded, or miss­ing in ac­tion by day’s end. Stand­ing amid a stag­ger­ing num­ber of mon­u­ments to the dead, look­ing down upon the Sunken Road that would be known ever af­ter as Bloody Lane, and view­ing the fa­mous pho­to­graphs by Alexan­der Gard­ner, I was con­fronted with echoes of a car­nage my mind can thank­fully never fathom.

Filled with sober awe for a his­toric event too tragic and grue­some to ever fully com­pre­hend, I was struck by the silly ways we cloak our pol­i­tics in dress­ings of war and deadly con­flict. We hear al­le­ga­tions from each side of the pres­i­den­tial con­test about “class war­fare.” We be­moan the at­tacks, and the par­ties feign their wounds. But this is not war­fare. This is not life and death. Go to An­ti­etam if you want to feel the dif­fer­ence.

Thank­fully, the trip was mostly about life – a won­der­ful kind of life where ev­ery day meant en­coun­ter­ing strangers who treated us like friends. Fel­low riders, innkeep­ers, res­tau­rant servers, bike shop me­chan­ics, and towns­peo­ple greeted us warmly. Sel­dom have I felt as ac­cepted and wel­come as a cy­clist, and we treated our hosts and their towns with the same re­spect.

It would do us all good to get out more. Step away from that com­puter; put down your smart phone. Re­gard­less of whether the TV is tuned to Fox News or MSNBC, turn it off for a while. Get out­side.

I know a 325-mile bike ride through four states seems im­pos­si­ble for most of you – and per­haps stupid to some!

But in the end, the ex­pe­ri­ence had very lit­tle to do with ath­letic abil­ity or train­ing and ev­ery­thing to do with a sense of ad­ven­ture and a small dose of de­ter­mi­na­tion. Don’t sell your­self short.

And, if long dis­tance biking or hik­ing is not your thing, try a walk on the trail in Ox­ford, go pad­dle on the Yel­low River, or take a short bike ride on the soon to be fin­ished East­side Trail in Cov­ing­ton. No mat­ter what you choose, it’ll do you more good than you know.

Mau­rice Carter is a Cov­ing­ton res­i­dent, a na­tive At­lantan, an IT con­sul­tant by pro­fes­sion, and an ac­tive community vol­un­teer at heart. He can be reached at mau­ricec7@bel­lsouth.net.

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