Tuesday, July 21, 2009

2 – The End (Continued)

I am now standing across the street from Ken’s home. What am I doing here? What am I about to walk into? Who are these strangers that have invited me into their home?

I walk across the street, see two doorbells and press the appropriate button. I hear sounds.

It has been a surreal chain of events that has brought me to this moment. Three weeks earlier on June 14, 2009 I was driving south on Queens’s Van Wyck Expressway when a few minutes after 5:00 PM I happened upon the aftermath of a single motorcycle accident in the north bound lanes. I stopped to offer any assistance I could. Though I did not know his identity at the time, I approached Ken Ragbir’s lifeless body lying face down in the road, his head covered by a shirt or towel.

That evening I searched the internet and watched the local TV news to learn more about what happened. I learned nothing. I blogged about what I saw and experienced, in part as a way of processing my experience.

Ken’s family was also trying to find more information about the accident. Ken’s relative Nadira stumbled upon my blog and alerted other family and friends to my post. Eventually total strangers also discovered my post as they were looking for news about the accident they happened to pass by. They, as well as Ken’s family and friends, started commenting on my post. I have since learned that my post about Ken’s motorcycle accident was the only news and the only semi-eyewitness account Ken’s family and friends had of Ken’s accident.

After reading my post, exchanging emails, and conversing over the phone, Ken’s family invited me to come to their home in the Bronx to meet with them and talk with them about what I saw that afternoon. That is what brought me too the end of the MTA 2 Line and to be standing outside their door.

The sounds I hear are the footfalls of a young and attractive female who opens the door and introduces herself as Nadira (fourth photo right), one of Ken’s family members. She and I have exchanged emails and talked over the phone. She invites me in and escorts me through a hallway into a living room where some of Ken’s other family and friends are gathered. She introduces me to Ken’s father Joe (top photo right), to Ken’s mother Lila (second photo right), to his ex-wife Julie (third photo right, person on right) and their beautiful sixteen year old daughter Ashley (Third photo right, person on left), to his girlfriend Lalita (bottom photo right), and to many other friends and family members.

Following introductions Lila, Nadira, Julie, Ashley and I head into the dining room where I am offered refreshment. Lilia asks what I saw that day three weeks earlier. I try to remember and describe the scene the best I can. Providing a firsthand eyewitness account of the scene of the accident, but not the events of the accident, seems to somehow bring some closure and comfort to the family.
As we talk I learn that Ken was forty-four years old, an only child, and raised by his grandmother in Trinidad. His parents brought him to America when he was twelve. Raised a Hindu by his Indian family (like many people of his generation raised as Christian), at age twenty-five he lost interest in the faith he was raised in and more or less embraced secularism. I am thinking that even across cultures and religions people from the same generation have more in common with each other than they do their parents and grandparents.

Lila shows me copies of the police report and tells me about her and Julia going to the hospital to identify Ken’s body. She narrates how the funeral home was packed for Ken’s viewing. She, Julie and Nadira share with me a touching poem written by Jimmy Seenath on behalf of the R&M Ambulette Crew in loving memory of Ken. I am shown a memorial booklet with pictures of Ken, information about his life, including a poem by Bengalie poet Rabindrath Tagore, and more tributes. After a while we move back into the living room where on the monitor of a desktop computer I view digital photographs of Ken while he was alive as well as photos taken at his Hindu memorial service.

After his divorce from Julie, Ken cam to live with his mother, taking a room in the basemeny. Lila tells me that Ken often said, especially lately “Mom, I want to die before you, because if you die before me I am going to throw myself into your grave.” Ken got his wish. Before his wish was granted, however, he lived everyday as if it were his last, displaying the true meaning of living for the minute. Ken’s last day was June 14, 2009, and his last minute was probably a few minutes if not seconds after 5:00 PM.

As nearly three hours slip by I come to know not only the identity of the lifeless stranger I encountered following a motorcycle accident on Queens’ Van Wyck Expressway on June 14, 2009 but also come to know many of his family and friends. As I stand in the kitchen eating homemade Indian food I feel like I am no longer in the home of strangers or even friends but at home with family. This Indian and Hindu family, an extended family that came to the United States via several generations in Trinidad, has welcomed me, a total stranger, not only into their home but also into their lives, even into their grief and sorrow. I am blessed by their hospitality.
As we prepare to say our goodbyes we talk about how our encounter is atypical for New York City, where for years people may ride the same subway car or bus and pass by each other as they walk the same streets in the same neighborhood but never talk or even say hello, usually avoiding eye contact. Yet for us a chance encounter made possible by telecommunications has broken down barriers of culture, ethnicity and religion.

As we talk I further learn that Nadira works in a building where I often attend meetings and so it is possible that we have passed in the hall or have been in the same elevator. She and I also discover that we share a common colleague and work associate. The world, and New York City, has just become a lot smaller.

As it turns out my ride to the end of New York Subway’s 2 line is a one way trip. A couple of Ken’s relatives and friends, one of them having recently moved to the city from Canada, offer me a ride home in a car with Canadian plates. I accept. Here I am, in the nation’s largest city, being driven home in a car with people I did not even know three hours ago. The journey gives us more time to talk, especially as we pass by the accident scene and try to identify the exact spot where Ken died.

We pull up in front of my house. I open the door, climb out of the back seat, say thank you and goodbye. I open the front door to my home and walk inside, wondering if my journey is now over, or just beginning.

I am certain that eventually I will blog about the afternoon, and sooner or later past some sort of memorial tribute to Ken Rabgir.

1 comment:

nn said...

John, thanks so much for your posts. They continue to be a a great tribute to a wonderful man, and a great comfort to a grieving family.

Many, many thanks for accepting the invitation of strangers to share in a moment of rememberance of their beloved...know that you left our home as a friend.