How to be both angry and sad at the same time

For the past 17 months and six days, people have said that I am handling suddenly being widowed with grace. Being furious and raging wasn’t going to unwind the fact that a careless driver killed my husband while he was riding his bike. I have limited reserves of energy, and I knew that walking around being angry wasn’t going to get me very far.

Last Thursday I was both angry and sad. If David Cummings was alive, I would have put down whatever work project had my attention in Atlanta just before 2:00, gotten in my car, and driven back to Sandersville, Georgia to celebrate with him. As I have told friends before, it was David who helped me connect the dots not too long after the boondoggle Plant Washington was announced.

I didn’t know much about energy production before the end of January 2008 when Dean Alford was presented to the business leaders of Washington County in an invitation only presentation at the Washington EMC. As I learned more, I became very concerned. It’s handy to be married to a geologist who can explain the water tables and such when a coal plant is going to draw down 16Million gallons of water per day, and your household water source about eight miles from the plant site is also drawn from a well in that same geologic plain.

FACE Board members and earliest supporters with certificates of recognition from President Obama

I’ve always credited David for helping me find my way on responding to Plant Washington. On one of the first beautiful spring days in 2008, the kind that makes you want to find any reason to go outside, I told David I wished there was someone who lived near the proposed plant site that I could talk to, because surely they would be concerned about the threats of coal ash emissions, access to water, safety, and property values. He casually said that long-time family friends Randy and Cathy Mayberry had a cabin adjacent to the site, that maybe I should talk to them.

That sunny afternoon I went out to walk, and after about an hour, sweaty and kind of worn looking, I knocked on the Mayberry’s front door. Cathy answered, and while I told her I didn’t want to interrupt their day, and I surely wasn’t fit to sit down with anyone to talk, maybe sometime we could have a conversation about the risks posed by Plant Washington. From the living room Randy called out, “Come on in.”

From there Cathy and I met on someone’s porch with Lyle Lansdell, Pat, and Sonny Daniel, Paula and John Swint. Jennette Gayer came drove down from Atlanta. Seth Gunning, a student at Valdosta State who was light years ahead of the rest of us about energy and the environment, drove up for a meeting. Larry Warthen, whose church was founded after the Civil War, where unmarked graves of enslaved and free people are just yards from the plant site perimeter, stepped up to help lead in the work. The lawyers and partner organizations came to us to teach us, guide us, and become champions for our community too.

David was a certified stream monitor for the Ogeechee Rverkeeper. Our grandchildren Chase and Ella went with him one afternoon to learn about stream monitoring.

David didn’t go to those early meetings, but he listened to me, counseled me when I thought my head would explode as I learned more about the convoluted way coal plants are developed, permitted, and financed. He signed the petitions and went to the hearings. He phone banked when volunteers across the state came together to help return Cobb EMC to the rightful control of the member-owners. He used a few vacation days to attend court proceedings and EPA public comment sessions. Later he agreed to serve on the board of the small grassroots organization, the Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE), that came together after the first few community meetings. Because he grew up fishing, canoeing, and swimming at our family’s farm on the Ogeechee River, he became a certified stream monitor.

Summer vacation in Maine, 2010, as I was beginning to realize fighting Plant Washington was the work I needed to do full-time

In the summer of 2010, when I knew to my core that quitting a job as a rural health advocate, where I excelled, instead of working nights, weekends, and burning through vacation days to fight Plant Washington, was my true calling, David supported me. When I worked 12 hours a day, he walked the dogs and cooked dinner. When I had cancer and was exhausted from radiation treatments, and the work required to fight Plant Washington totaled at least one thousand hours each week among our partners, he supported me. When Plant Washington’s funders backed out, and the truth in what FACE and our partners had said all along became clearer and clearer, David celebrated with me. And when the work of fighting Plant Washington wasn’t a full-time job any longer, because winning meant I would work my way out of a job, David supported me while I looked for work that would tap all the passion and experience I had garnered since 2008. He was always there.

Thursday evening I had plans to meet Atlanta friends who don’t know me as coal-plant fighting activist. One of them said she wanted to hear the story of my work as we began walking through the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. I told her I couldn’t compress it well at the moment, as it began in 2008 and changed me forever.

So we toasted a long-awaited victory, one they know matters to the health of the small rural community where my husband and children grew up, where some of my grandchildren live now, the community that helped FACE leaders become the best and truest versions of ourselves.  We toasted to doing work that matters and benefits everyone on this one planet, and to those whose bodies have been returned to it.

 

A serving of justice lite

Two days ago a friend described the criminal court proceedings against the careless driver who killed my bicycle-riding husband, David, as a “lite order of justice.” Why? What’s the punishment for killing a law-abiding cyclist in Georgia?

David Cummings

Careless driving resulting in a cyclist’s death is considered a misdemeanor, and the penalties are hardly harsh. A year’s probation, losing a driver’s license for 12 months, 40 hours of community service, and completing a driver safety course, were meted out by the judge who accepted a plea agreement reached between the defense and prosecutor.

The bar is set that low in the state of Georgia for killing  a cyclist due to careless driving.

Things that serve as mere inconveniences for the driver, in my opinion, hardly balance the loss of a husband, father, grandfather, brother, nephew, cousin, friend. While making funeral arrangements, we knew the punishment could never match the loss we would experience everyday for the remainders of our lives.

On Tuesday my family arrived at the courthouse fully aware that regardless of how impassioned our victim’s statements might be, there would be no sentence close to matching the significance of the life lost. We are not the first to experience this unnecessary loss, nor, sadly, the last.

So all of us continue to grieve and mourn, both family and friends, while the punishment for the person whose carelessness caused us to gather in a courtroom this week, is measured in a very few months and hours of inconvenience. A serving of justice lite was the only thing available on the menu Tuesday.

I’ve changed my status

Last month I made a change to my FaceBook account I really never imagined possible.

It is one of the hard realities I have lived with since April 30th, when a series of phone calls, the last from my friend, and deputy coroner in Washington County, told me that my husband David had been hit from behind while riding his bike, and he didn’t survive the injuries.

The accident report includes that David’s vehicle was an A. Holmer Hilsen. It doesn’t include that the Carolina blue bike was a custom ordered Rivendell, one he almost wore the internet out admiring over and over again. He even tucked in a visit to the Rivendell shop during a business trip in California to confirm it would be the right bike for him.

On a Friday in November, 2014, David called me and said he had survived another downsizing where he had built his career, and that he was going to order the Rivendell. I encouraged him to get the jersey and anything else he wanted for this long-admired bike. I don’t know how many thousands of miles he put on that bike, but he loved every one of them. (That’s not the Rivendell in the photo below, but another bike he and his work wife Leslie looked at on a different business trip.)Now I am recalibrating my internal compass. A full-stop was in order. I quit my job and signed up for Life Is A Verb Camp in November. Offers for weekends with friends have been accepted. “Can you help me with…” is in my vocabulary. “Not now but later please,” and “That decision doesn’t have to be made today,” are also phrases I call on when needed.

We had planned to be with family on what would have been our 34th anniversary, so I was there in Colorado, at a family reunion without the man who brought me into two families who love laughter, a good story, great food, and time together. When we tell stories about David with baby Parker, he is always called D, the name Ella chose when she was old enough to call to him, and that both children would often shout when they came in our back door.

I am in unchartered waters, not adrift, but still not sure which direction I will choose. My task is to not to rush the recalibration, because I need to get this right. I must honor and respect this time and work every day.