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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Beacon Bits -- In Remembrance

This blog post is all food for thought. It has been a week where it has been difficult not to be thoughtful, reflective and emotional.
It has been a week since the tragic Metro North Hudson Line train accident that occurred on Sunday December 1st. That is our train. The one that runs beside our river, as steadfast as the tugs and barges that go north, only to return south. That was our train with our people. The people who commute to work on a daily basis, the people who rely on the convenience of the ride to Grand Central to take in a museum or play in NYC, the people who come up to our town to visit the Dia Museum, attend gallery openings, hike Mount Beacon and Breakneck Ridge and to check out the revival on Main Street.
It was hard not to want to read every article in the New York Times and the Poughkeepsie Journal News about the train derailment. It was difficult not to want to hear the updates on the radio driving to work and reports on the morning and nightly news. It was heart wrenching to know that the majority of the people on the train were residents of the Hudson Valley and that two of the deceased were living within a neighborly distance from Beacon and that a close by neighbor who was a dentist traveling to the convention got on the train in Beacon and was critically injured.
It was difficult to wait for the news. The news that confirmed it was not a mechanical failure. The news that the train was speeding far above the speed limit. The news that reported there was no texting and no alcohol. The news that leaked that the engineer may have dozed off during that last non-stop run from Tarrytown towards 125th Street via the fateful curve at Spuyten Duyvil. 
Blame will not return any of the lost life, nor reverse the critical and life-changing injuries, both physical and psychological,  for all the passengers who boarded that train without a glimmer of knowledge that this train would not reach its destination. That  early Sunday morning train that lulled many passengers to sleep. The train that traveled south with the sun rising in the east over the river on a clear but cold winter morning.
I cried when listening to the personal narratives of those who could still speak about their experience of being slammed against the sides of the train car as the cars left the track. I cried when I thought of the engineer, William Rockefeller, also a local Dutchess county resident, that was spoken highly of by neighbors and friends and union representatives; the one who will forever hold the grief, the guilt, and the responsibility for the role that he played in the derailment. I cried when I realized that observers were looking to vilify the engineer without understanding the nuances of circadian rhythms and sleep disorders for night shift workers and how these factors play roles in countless numbers of mass transportation and industrial accidents when workers suffer from chronic sleep deprivation and live out of sync with the natural circadian rhythms that are biased toward daytime work.
I was struck that two of the deceased, Donna Smith, 54, of Newburgh NY and Jim Lovell, 58, of Cold Spring NY were en route to engage in activities related to the festivities leading up to Christmas: the lighting of the Rockefeller Center tree and the singing of Handel's Messiah.  But I was mostly touched by the examples of their lives. They both were involved with family, with community, with activities and work that they were passionate about. Both of them were loving, caring and generous individuals who reached out to others, who practiced countless acts of kindness and who were living the Golden Rule . They were stellar role models for all of us, who like them, do not know when our life will come to an end. It seemed that Donna and Jim were not taking any time for granted; they practiced living the best life day to day. Some would call that spiritual wisdom. I call it a gift for those of us who did not know them, but by their example can dig a little deeper and try a little harder and live to our full potential just the way that they did. With gratitude for their lives, I ask for them to rest in eternal peace.

Storm King Mountain along the Metro North Hudson Line
Links for those who might want to make a holiday gift as a donation in memory of Jim Lovell (for the care of his family) and Donna Smith (for Habitat for Humanity in Newburgh.)
Links for those who want to learn more about circadian rhythms and sleep disorders and the role of the National Transportation Safety Board.
The latter are links passed along by a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, who responded to an email I sent to a researcher at Rush University with a specific and direct request for her to write an Op-Ed for the New York Times to better inform the public about the science of sleep and circadian rhythms.
Sleep induced accidents can happen to all of us. Not a day goes by that I personally am not touched when I pass a certain spot on Route 9D in Garrison where I had a close call with a momentary 'nodding off' this past summer. There but for grace, go I....or you.....
Pause and reflect and take the time to learn about avoiding sleep deprivation that can cause accidents in your life.

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