By Ed Chasteen
I ride a bicycle. Thousands of miles every year. For the past two years some of us riders have been meeting at 7:30 every Saturday morning at the bike shop in Liberty. We ride to nearby towns for breakfast. Because I’m slow, they always let me leave first. A few minutes later, they all pass me. And I’m last. I’m now riding sweep. That’s the name we give to the rider who comes last and stops to help any other rider who has had a problem.
Now everybody in my country has had a problem. When those planes hit those towers, our world exploded. We no longer feel safe. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. And we don’t know how to put him together again. And I’m riding sweep.
When the state of Louisiana embarrassed itself back in 1988 by electing a member of the KKK to their state legislature, the governor invited my students and me to come to Louisiana and help the state redeem itself. My students and I started HateBusters and went to Louisiana. I was riding sweep.
When bigots came with their hate signs to our campus to protest a black speaker, I ran to my office and made myself a sign and ran to join them. My sign said, “These Guys Are Nuts.” The crowd began to laugh. The bigots got in their cars and went home. I was riding sweep.
When other bigots painted racist messages on a church in a nearby town, I organized a caravan of all races and religions to drive there for a rally. I was riding sweep.
When someone burned a cross in a black man’s yard in my town, I called a march from our campus to our town square, wearing our HateBusters shirts and chanting “Up with people, down with hate.” I was riding sweep.
When black churches got hate letters, I organized a love letter campaign that brought thousands of letters from all over the world offering love and support for those churches. I was riding sweep.
Those things were easy. They didn’t seem easy at the time. But what to do came easily to me then. No sooner had they happened than I just knew what I should do. Instantly and intuitively I understood what to do. And I did it. I rode sweep.
But it has been almost four years since 9-11. And what have I done? What have I said? What help have I been? I did go to Ground Zero for a week as a Salvation Army volunteer to help feed the police and firefighters who were recovering bodies. But I’ve had no answer for those who sent me emails and asked what HateBusters could do.
Four long years of grappling with 9-11 and I have not thought of even one specific action that any of us as private citizens might take to redress this tragedy. My mind keeps returning to a decision each of us could make that could deliver us individually from the mind numbing and soul killing tension that all of us are in danger of learning to live with. If we learn to live in fear, we will have died in all ways that really matter long before we draw our final breath. The coward dies many times. The brave die but once.
If we are not to die a little bit with every headline announcing the latest inhumanity, we must resolve to make ourselves into what I call World Class Persons. By my own definition, a World Class Person is one who can go anyplace at any time and talk to anyone about anything and feel safe. I must be honest with you and admit that I am not a World Class Person. I want to be. I’m making myself move in that direction. Down that road is the only place I see life.
I cannot live in a world where I fear the people I see on the street, in the paper or on my TV screen. I cannot build a fort around me to keep me safe. I’m a bridge builder. By training and by disposition. That’s who I am. And if I cannot be who I am, why do I want to live?
A bridge is of no value unless there is a road coming to it and going from it. The WCP Highway is under construction. The events on the morning of September 11, 2001 in New York City make the building of that road almost impossible. But they also make it that much more necessary.
In Man of LaMancha, Don Quixote’s friends come to him. They say to him, “Wickedness wears thick armor.” They think he is a fool. They mean to discourage him. He replies, “And for that you would have me surrender? Nay, the enchanter may confuse the outcome ten thousand times. Still must a man arise and again do battle. For the effort is sublime.”
The effort to become a World Class Person promises deliverance from the paralyzing fears that seize our minds and hearts and make us cruel. As we travel the WCP Highway we meet others who make the journey. And if we come upon one who has been wounded, we can be the Good Samaritan.
We’re riding sweep. May peace, power, purpose and joy go with us every day and all the way. This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. I will travel this day on the World Class Person Highway. I will minister to those I meet along the way whose journey has been interrupted.
I’m riding sweep.