Woog's World / A pall cast over year's end
Westport has had better years than 2010, that's for sure.
A sputtering economy kept our residential real estate market in check. Downtown remained, if not a ghost town, a shell of its former vibrant self. A brutal storm knocked out power for days, tossed trees through roofs, and even cost one woman her life.
But it took three separate deaths in the final month of the year to really cast a pall on the town.
Sharon Broecking -- a 62-year-old woman revered for her dog-walking devotion and loved for her care giving to senior citizens -- was killed by a driver while crossing Post Road East near Super Stop & Shop.
Hers was the second such fatality in a week. Ira Eisner -- a 93-year-old Stamford man -- died also, two weeks after being struck by a car in front of Restoration Hardware.
And in the aftermath of the Christmas weekend blizzard, 48-year-old Cindy D'Aiuto was found before dawn, clad in pajamas and boots, in a snow-covered parking lot not far from her Canal Park home. She was pronounced dead at Norwalk Hospital. Like Sharon Broecking, she was mourned by many who saw her every day, going about her life with simple dignity.
Westport is not immune to death. People die here all the time -- as they do in the real world beyond our bubble, of natural causes, diseases, accidents. Death is a part of life, and part of living in a community like ours is the opportunity to support neighbors and friends in the aftermath of a loss.
Yet the sudden, gruesome deaths of three people in the span of just a few days -- coming, as they did, during the "holiday season" -- caused normally harried Westporters to pause, and reflect, on life in this rush-around town.
When we heard of Sharon Broecking's death -- and were reminded of an eerily similar accident two years earlier when Billy Ford was hit and killed in a nearby crosswalk -- we shivered at the thought of dying that way. But anyone who drives in Westport also knew that he or she could have been the driver of a car that struck a pedestrian.
We always see people crossing busy streets. Sometimes they're in crosswalks; sometimes not. Sometimes they cross against the traffic light; sometimes there's no light anywhere close. Sometimes they're easy to see; sometimes they're not.
Sometimes they're doing all the right things. Sometimes they're walking or jogging, wearing dark clothes at night, listening to headphones, oblivious to the world.
Sometimes we're careful, yet still don't see them until it's nearly too late. Sometimes we're careless -- chatting with passengers, yelling at our kids, talking on cell phones, texting, listening to our own headphones -- and only good luck or the grace of god prevents us from being part of our own tragedy.
When that happens, our hearts beat faster. We slow down -- for a moment, anyway. We vow to be far more vigilant in the future. We promise ourselves never to use our cell phones again. And we don't.
Until the next time.
We also shivered when we heard the news about Cindy D'Aiuto, and not just because she froze to death in a blizzard. We wondered to ourselves what would happen if we were out in the cold like that -- walking the dog perhaps, or shoveling snow, or just getting the mail -- and something happened to us. Maybe we forgot our keys, or fell, or lost our bearings in a whiteout. Would we have enough wits to know what to do? Would we be able to stave off hypothermia, to seek help, to not stumble and fall and die?
And we shivered too because we all have seen Westporters in dangerous situations. We've seen people we think might need help -- strangers, sure, but also folks we recognize after seeing them here and there for years; even close neighbors -- yet we haven't stopped what we're doing, and seen if they're OK.
We think about stopping -- we're not heartless, after all -- but we make a calculated decision to walk past, or drive on by. "I'm sure he's all right," we say to ourselves.
Or, "I've seen her before. I always wonder about her, but she seems to manage OK."
Or, "I really should stop. But I've got to pick up my kids/get to work and finish this project/get home before the ice cream melts."
We've all been there. We've all done these things. We've driven badly, driven past people, driven ourselves to the brink because, after all, this is Westport, and that's the way we do things here.
Fortunately, we haven't all been Sharon Broecking, Ian Eisner or Cindy D'Aiuto. We haven't had our lives snuffed out, just like that, on the streets of this small, beautiful town.
But we shiver also because we know that -- alone, quickly, quietly -- we could easily die like they did, too.