A Man Died Today. I, Bruce, didn’t know him. So why am I so sad?
John Harsch was killed doing something that he apparently loved. Riding his bicycle. I use the word “apparently” because I didn’t know him. But there are a lot of things I know about him without having to have met him.
He was a human being. He touched a lot of people’s lives. He was a doctor. He cared about his patients. His patients loved him. Some probably couldn’t stand him. Why? Because he was a human being, not a saint, not a deity. He was an economic engine. He was a job creator. He was a healer. He was an integral part of his community. He was a husband. A co-worker. An uncle (maybe). A father (maybe). He was a good friend (definitely).
The article announcing the circumstances of his death called him a “bicyclist.” Obviously that’s true, but it’s such a shallow description of the person who was riding his bike in the same place and at the same time when some careless driver took his life away. Took his life away from him, but more so from everyone around him. The outpouring of love on Twitter, on the Facebook page of the Southern Crescent Cycling Club, on caring pages, is an absolute testament to who John Harsch was. Yes he was a bicyclist but let’s not diminish his life by reducing him to a label. He was a human being.
John Harsch was killed by a careless driver. I know that the official statement from the Henry County Police Department is that the investigation is ongoing, but I don’t need to see the results of their investigation to know that I’m right. Of course, the driver could have been worse than careless, he could have been malicious, motivated by some inner demons manifesting in uncontrolled road rage. But more likely, he didn’t intend to kill someone today, he just made a careless mistake. I know it was careless, because if he had been paying attention to the road ahead of him, he would have seen John and his 3 companions and would have avoided hitting them. It’s that simple. A life lost and countless other people impacted forever, all on account of one careless driver. This was not an accident, it was a crash.
Criminal charges should follow. If the driver just made a mistake, an error in judgment, then he will face a maximum of one year in jail. If he was drunk, high, texting, then perhaps he will face felony charges, which come with a longer sentence. But there’s also a likelihood that he won’t be charged at all. Sad to say that police have not been known to hold drivers responsible when someone is killed while riding a bicycle. It’s like we lose some basic aspect of respect for our humanity simply by getting on a bike. But let’s hope that the police remember that John Harsch was a human being.
I’m sad. I’m angry. I’m a little scared too. Maybe it’s because he and I are close in age that this is hitting me harder than it should. I’ve read 10 different articles about his death and I feel like I could be reading about my own. I didn’t know John Harsch but I feel like I did. I feel like I’ve known dozens and dozens of John Harschs. People who, just by being there, give infinitely more back to the world than they take. I wish I had met him.
We all touch so many lives in multiple circles that we really take it for granted. How many communities are you a part of? At my age, I’m part of a community from my high school, from my college and law school, from my first job at a law firm, from my kid’s pre-school class, from the little league park, from Cub Scouts, from the legal community, from my basketball league, from my gym, from my law office, from my hometown. And that leaves out the most important people of all: my family. My wife, my 3 children, my mother, my brother, my sisters in law and brothers in law, my nieces and nephews. My close friends. When you take away one life, how many people are touched, impacted by the absence, reminded of their own mortality and left with a hole in their own lives? How would our absence be felt across the multiple levels on which we have lived our lives?
A Man Died Today. I wish I had known him. I feel like I did.