Riding, Remembering, Recovering

Biking through the streets of Boston yesterday on the final leg of the 3-day ride from Ground Zero, I rode through Kenmore Square feeling like it was 1994, and I was navigating from one of my grad classes at Boston University to my tiny studio apartment in Beacon Hill.

As a little girl I had dreamed of studying at BU; it was my Dad’s alma mater, and some of my best memories as a child are of traveling there from our home in Connecticut to watch my Dad play his trumpet in the alumni band. While he practiced, my Mom and I enjoyed the school and the city. One year that meant picking through all the treasures at a tag sale being held in the Music Department. There was a luxurious red snow fox stole—with glass eyes, four legs, feet and a tail—that for $1.50 was clipped around my neck and coming home with us. The next year’s big find: a red plastic clown nose from a convenient store. Another visit brought introductions to Julia Child and BU President John Silber.

Since Dad died at the end of May, I have had the overwhelming sensation of being forced to perform in play for which I never wanted to audition. How I would love to be back at that tag sale just outside the band room, sounds from his brass section muted by the closed door. Instead, the whole summer has been somewhat of a blur. Important training time for the 270-mile ride from Ground Zero was replaced by frequent trips home to CT, and long rides alone were bittersweet: beautiful times to reflect, but too much time to think. I would return red-eyed, swollen — all the while thinking, “I just don’t feel like ‘me’.”

Yesterday, veering onto Comm Ave from Beacon Street, I had a sudden, clear, unexpected realization: For the first time in three months, I did feel like “me.” And I have Susan Retik, founder of Beyond the 11th and organizer of the ride, to thank for that. Susan created a community of riders who shared a powerful sense of purpose—to remember 9/11 in a way that connects us with each other and our world.

Susan lost her husband, David, on September 11th. They had been college sweethearts. She was seven months pregnant. In her darkest hours she chose to understand the pain of others–particularly those beyond our borders affected by the same tragedy. She forged a kinship with Afghan war widows who are among the most oppressed and impoverished people in our world. In the 8 years since she co-founded Beyond the 11th, she has helped 10,000 Afghan widows to help themselves and their families. At the end of the ride, Susan told an Esplande crowd of 5,000, “We cannot literally force the rest of the world to be our friend. We have to befriend the world.”

Three days earlier, overlooking Ground Zero on the first day of the ride, Susan said, “The events of that day were completely out of my control. Even just getting on the bike from the hotel, I felt – I’m in control.”

Together, 44 of us spent three days pedaling 262-miles through four states. We made our way from Ground Zero through busy intersections in Manhattan and Brooklyn. We watched the sun come up along the Connecticut shoreline as cranes caught their breakfast. We dodged chipmunks, squirrels and turkeys. We pounded pink and blue Powerade and wild berry power gels. We were cheered on by strangers, accused of being menaces, given an escort by the Mayor of Bridgeport, and were mistaken for Neil Armstrong by a man who quickly wished he’d yelled Lance. We talked and talked. Laughed and laughed. And we cried when Susan had her accident on Day 2, wishing the broken collarbone and concussion had happened to ourselves instead.

For the final 25 miles, our spirits were buoyed as nearly 200 riders joined us for the final leg to the banks of the Charles River. As we made our victory lap around the Hatch Shell in front of 5,000 people, the Boston Pops Brass Ensemble began to play – and I could hear Dad’s trumpet ringing in my ears.

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