Many years ago, as part of a daily school day routine, I took a public transportation bus from the west side of Chicago to downtown Chicago with a slew of classmates as part of my route home on the South side. I was 16 then and, as only a crowded bus filled with teens can be, the bus was loud and more than likely my classmates were obnoxious – not the rude kind of obnoxious, the annoying kind of obnoxious.
As reputable students of the then #1 high school in Chicago, we were brainy and opinionated and, like most teens, just wanted to be seen and heard. I’m sure adults who had worked a long day and awaited a quiet bus ride home loathed our bus stop – even if we did give up our seats for the elderly. 🙂
One fine day like any other, my closest girlfriend and I huddled quietly at the front of the bus in expectation of greater afternoon events. We were not a part of the sophomoric commotion brewing in the back of the bus although there had been many days we sat and giggled with and/or at the more rowdier bunch in the back. We exited the bus at State street as did the majority of our schoolmates.
For a teen, there was no finer place to be than alive and free in downtown Chicago after a long school day. This particular day, my girlfriend and I were to meet another friend on the corner of State and Lake. I can’t even remember why…but whatever the reason, we were highly anticipating food, fun and lots of laughs.
As we walked briskly towards the meeting point, my girlfriend just a few paces ahead of me, a young man and his friend were ranting over what was clearly an altercation. I remember him uttering, “I’m a gangsta and I’m gon’ die a gangsta…if I had my piece, I would have shot ol’ girl.” Whatever the banter, it mattered not to me – the mind of this young foodie was on the best junk food State street had to offer and laughter with friends. The young man and his friend were walking a few paces ahead of me but a few paces behind my girlfriend…she was taller and had a much wider gait…I was okay with strolling a little further behind. When she drew closer to the meeting point, she looked back at me and smiled in anticipation. We were going to have sooo much fun! I understood the message of her smile and giggled back at her…just then, WHAM!!! The silent but certain communication between two teen friends had been suddenly interrupted by the loud expletives of a stranger and, worse, his fist to my face…repeatedly!
I was in a state of shock. Coming from a family of 5 kids and being the youngest, I was used to a tussle here and there…but this…this was something foreign! I had no time to think, no time to react, no time to ball my fist, no time to cry! As his friend stood by and watched…and I would later discover so were a crowd of other passers-by, the young man picked me up and threw me on top of a car and continued to beat me in the face vehemently. My chest or arm or stomach were not good enough targets, this guy only wanted my face. I couldn’t see my surroundings. All I could see were flashings of my 16 short years replay in my mind. Where was I and what have I done to the deserve this and is this the end?
When the beating stopped, the young man and his friend walked away…just as cavalierly as if they had just finished window shopping and decided not to enter the store. There was no sprint as if they were trying to get away from a robbery. I came to to focus on a crowd of people who had witnessed the incident and did nothing – kids and adult passers-by alike. In a matter of minutes that seemed like hours, the police had arrived from a nearby store where my girlfriend had run for help.
The police didn’t have to chase my assailant. He and his friend were still “window shopping.” They accosted him in less than a minute. He could not tell them my name because he didn’t know it. He could not tell them what I had done to warrant his actions because I had never seen him before his fist met my face. He went to jail and I went to the hospital…with a broken nose and a broken spirit. I was 16 years old and I needed a hero that day.
These days we throw around terms like friend, love, and even hero as if it were a common occurrence. In fact, it is in human nature to be wicked, selfish and unkind. It is, therefore, uncommon to be friendly, loving and heroic. When we witness strong, healthy bonds, unwavering love, and brave heroism, we should value it…respect it…celebrate it. An elderly couple weathers the storm through 50 years of marriage, a young man donates his kidney to save his college buddy’s life, a soldier battles the frontlines defending the freedom of his country – these are all extraordinary things.
A couple of weeks ago, there was much media buzz about Jason Collins, an NBA player for the Washington Wizards. Many people had never heard of Jason before. Jason introduced himself to the world as the first openly gay NBA player. Jason landed the widely coveted cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. President Obama personally called Jason to offer his support and commendation. Jason won top spot interviews on most major television networks including Oprah, and some people went so far as to call Jason a hero. While in some locker rooms, being gay may be newsworthy, I do not think Jason’s “coming out” is heroic – not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I am struggling to understand what Jason did or said to warrant the highly esteemed “pat on the back” from President Obama…it baffles me.
Heroes make a choice to do the extraordinary not for personal gain or notoriety, but because it’s the right thing to do. Heterosexuals and homosexuals alike make a choice everyday to love whom they choose and lie with whom they choose. Pardon the redundancy, but it is a choice albeit not an extraordinary one. If it were extraordinary, the whole of humanity would be severely depressed and stagnated. With the pharaonic amount of people that choose to fall in and out of love daily, marry then divorce, make babies then leave them, how can society progress and avoid hopelessness if these choices were so extraordinary?
Just a couple of days ago, 3 women were rescued from the home of a man who had kidnapped, raped and abused them over 10 years ago when they were mere adolescents. One young lady, Amanda Berry, saw a route of escape but was hindered by a door that wouldn’t budge. Her rescuer, Charles Ramsey, saw a woman in distress and immediately rushed to assist her. In so doing, Charles’ actions eventually freed all of the captive women including a young child.
Charles doesn’t have the polished look of an NBA player. He doesn’t have a sensational background. He is not a man of eloquent speech. He is a regular guy, with a regular life, in a regular neighborhood, but with a brave heart and a sound enough mind to do an extraordinary thing.
Like many would have done, Charles could have chosen to ignore the cry for help. He could have deemed it a domestic dispute and opted to not get involved. He could have even waited for the police to arrive.
Charles did not tell Amanda to wait there for help. He did not stand in shameful watch while Amanda struggled as the onlookers did during my attack. When I think about it, I cannot say that even I wouldn’t have taken a second to think and calculate the situation before acting…even after having been a young woman in dire distress.
Nonetheless, I am grateful…Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus are grateful, we all are grateful to Charles for doing the extraordinary.
We are grateful to God for someone like Charles Ramsey. If there is no call from the president for Charles, no magazine cover, no interview with Oprah, know that Charles is the real hero!
“All heroes are shadows of Christ”
~ John Piper, author of Don’t Waste Your Life