There had been nothing special about her. Nothing that would have caused me to take note of her. Only that she walked toward me along the left side of the path (her left, my right), so I had to move to my left to pass her.
I remember she was tall and hadn’t appeared to be in any particular hurry. All kinds of people walk the bike paths in and around Dayton, and for various reasons. Some walk for exercise, others simply to be out among nature. Of course, there are runners. Some fit, and some who want to be. As well, there are cyclists. Some serious, some out just for fun. Some like me who fall somewhere in the middle.
The woman had been fiddling with her phone, which was why, I assumed, she hadn’t noticed me as I passed her at 15 miles per hour. I usually nod my helmet toward passers-by, and most acknowledge with a wave or a nod themselves. She hadn’t seen me at all. And I’d seen her only briefly.
Many of the trails in Dayton lead from one park to another. When I’d passed her, I’d been about a hundred yards from the entrance to the Eastwood MetroPark. Riding southeast, the park can’t be seen until you’re suddenly within it, because of the trees that line the perimeter. Immediately, I see a commotion. Four Dayton police offers walk with purpose toward me, not like any of those walkers I’d passed on the trail earlier. There is also a police cruiser coming from the parking lot and a park ranger SUV behind it.
One officer says something to me, but I can’t hear, because when I ride the trails, I like to use both earbuds and listen to music. (Normally, in traffic I use only one and listen to audiobooks or podcasts.) With my right hand I pull the brake lever. I need new brake pads. I always use both hands to brake, which is better anyway. But with my left hand I am removing the earbud from my left ear. I pass them, heading toward the cruiser. I hope they don’t think I am being insolent, racing by them as I am.
Eventually, I slow enough to turn around, but my shoes are momentarily stuck in my toe clips and I nearly fall. (I wish I had cycling shoes, the kind that clip into the pedals. Of course, I’d also need the special pedals. Altogether it’d be something like $150. Instead, my pedals feature straps and something like little cages into which I slide my shoes.) When I reach them, the officer, who, if he hadn’t been so resolute, might have laughed at the amateurish cyclist before him, addresses me again.
“Did you see a woman in a striped green shirt walking that way?” he asks, pointing beyond the trees, where the other officers already head.
“Striped shirt?” I reply, finally having pulled my shoes from the toe clips and come to a stop.
“Brown hair, pretty tall,” he adds, gesturing with one hand above his head — in case I didn’t understand what he meant by “tall.”
I don’t recall brown hair, but I remember her being tall. So I say, “Yes, I did see her walking that way.” Now I am pointing back to the trail I’d come from.
“Thanks,” he says. And he runs to join the others.
A woman I hadn’t noticed approaches me and says, “I didn’t see the woman they’re looking for.” She looks to be in her mid-fifties and is dressed like she is out walking for exercise, though she isn’t sweating.
“Do you know why they’re looking for her,” I ask her, wiping my face with a gloved hand.
“I’m not sure, but I think she’s mentally ill.”
“That’s too bad,” I say.
A family I’d passed moments earlier on the trail reaches us with curious faces. The mother and father each push a stroller, and a boy who looks to be five or six accompanies them.
The mother asks us, “What’s going on back there?”
“They’re looking for a woman who’s mentally ill,” the walker tells them. “A tall woman.”
“Yeah, we saw her,” the mother replies, while the father studies the trees beyond which the officers have disappeared.
I am curious to see how everything plays out, just like they are, but I also feel like it isn’t my business. Five or six men in uniforms with guns seem capable of handling the situation. So I head back out on the trail.
The breeze on my face again, I can’t help but think how just moments before I’d been extolling the wonder of God’s creation and the beautiful day he provided. It truly is a gorgeous day. I try to schedule out my trail rides, but weather here in the Midwest can be quite fickle. Weather.com doesn’t always get it right. Earlier in the week rain showers had been forecast for today, but there is only a smattering of clouds in a big, blue sky. It is in the low 70s and wind is minimal.
I had been thinking, as I have done often for a couple years now, about how God is going to re-create everything, how all that I love about creation as it is now will be even better — far beyond my imagination, and anyone else’s. On days like today, I catch a fleeting glimpse of that re-creation and I offer praise to the God who was, and is, and will always be.
But now my heart is heavy with grief. Mental illness, like physical illness, is a product of Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden. They were created with perfect bodies, ones that knew no aches or pains — or cancer. And they were created with sound minds, allowing them to relate and interact with each other and with the God who created them whole and beautiful.
But their sin corrupted all that was good. And this is why on a marvelous June morning officers hunt down a woman who seemed innocent enough in passing. I pray off and on for the woman and the situation until I reach my destination, where I power on my netbook and continue writing my story — a memoir you might call it, a true story of redemption. And I prayerfully anticipate the Great Redemption to come.