Wednesday, March 28, 2012
4:03 AM | Edit Post
Before I begin, I need to first thank everyone who lent me their support upon hearing of the burglary at my house earlier this week. I received no end of messages from people all over the country and a great deal of helpful information and assistance in putting the word out from the good folks at Moment Cycle Sport and Nytro. The San Diego Police Department was very responsive and the officer that came out was personally diligent and sympathetic. Most of all, I owe thanks to the multitude of people who went so far as to offer to send me their own bike in order to get me back to training for RAAM. I am at a complete loss for words to express the sincere gratitude I feel for the tremendous generosity of these special individuals.
Since my bikes have all been stolen, I've been conducting my training for the last few days on a treadmill and in the squat rack. If what follows is a little disjointed, I blame it on the fact that they're not as good a conversationalist as a bicycle.
Several thoughts have gone through my head after what happened this week, but the one curiosity I keep returning to is the number of people who expressed relief that the thieves only took bicycles and didn't enter my house and harm my family. To be sure, I'm equally thankful for that, but it struck me that so many people felt that the crime itself was a hideous violation of something sacred. The very idea that someone would come into my home while I'm sleeping disturbed several people. It didn't bother me that much. Maybe it's because I had other things on my mind. All things considered, having my bikes stolen wasn't the worst thing that happened to me over the weekend.
I got hit by a car on Saturday.
Hit. Literally. Physical contact happened. The rear passenger door against my elbow. It put me off the road. The wind was blowing in my ears and it came up so fast and quiet I didn't even have a chance to react. I went into a soft grass field screaming at 22mph. The short lady in the silver-blue Acura just kept driving away. Thankfully, I was able to get things under control and stopped before anything really bad happened. I righted myself, stood back on the shoulder, and watched her zip on down the road as if nothing had happened. She didn't even accelerate or slow down. I wondered if she'd even noticed I was there. That's when I began trembling uncontrollably. A thought came to me. Not of fear or anger, but something worse. Five minutes passed before I could stop shaking enough to pedal again.
I have to stop for a second and tell a couple of quick background anecdotes. There were probably a dozen times I almost died during my first deployment to Iraq in 2003, but two stick out in memory. I was shot at during my first week in country, and a few months later I drove over a roadside bomb three times before someone realized they'd given me the wrong map coordinates to find it. A while later, another group of guys in our unit encountered four Iraqi men with heavy weapons in a car. The men put up a fight, and the soldiers wound up killing them all. Before the last one died of his wounds, he confessed that they'd been on their way to attack our base. He'd been paid by Saddam loyalists to kill American soldiers. The price for a hit-man in Iraq in 2003? Twenty-five bucks.
Here's what makes those little tales relevant. I'm not angry at the people who stole my bikes. I was never angry at the man who planted the bomb I drove over. I didn't feel hatred for the man who shot at me. I even felt sorry for the guys who took money to attack me. But the guy who gave me the wrong map coordinates? Let's just say that I had words with him. And the woman who hit me with her car? If she stood before me right now I don't know if I'd fall to my knees and beg her for something or if I'd just wring the life from her neck.
Maybe that sounds inconsistent. How could I feel equal levels of anger for such disparate crimes as robbery and attempted murder? And how could I forgive one would-be killer and harbor such rage against another? And why the conflicting reactions to the driver?
I think most people view things in terms of the relative harm done. The thieves and gunmen were worse because they actually did me harm and because their intent was malicious. The woman "only" had an accident. I don't evaluate the incident, though. I look at the person. I know the people who tried to kill me in Iraq didn't hate me. They weren't Saddam or Bin Laden loyalists. They were desperate men with families they couldn't feed. They had neither the skill for or tendency toward weapons, but it was their last resort to provide for their children. I don't know if the bicycle thieves were desperate as well, but I'd like to think so. The economy is tough. People are having trouble making ends meet. Maybe the thieves thought bike equipment would be an easy score to move and make some sorely needed cash. Maybe my bike pays for a kid's new pair of glasses this week. There would have been better ways to resolve that issue, but if it's something like that, I could at least be okay with it.
My son wears glasses. If I had to steal your bike to keep him from going blind in one eye, I'd do it. I've done much worse things in my life for much less noble reasons.
But what was the motorists reason? Maybe she was irritated that a cyclist was in her way. Maybe she just didn't give it much thought that I need more space. Maybe she got distracted for a moment while passing me or it's likely she never saw me in the first place because her mind was on other things. In any case, her crime would have been not caring. She would have killed me as absentmindedly as any of us step on an insect while strolling the sidewalk. In a word, she was careless.
To my mind, being careless is, in and of itself, one of the worst crimes a person can commit. Consider it this way. If the bomber or the sniper had killed me in Iraq, regardless of how you feel about the war, my death would have had meaning. It would have meant food for my killer's children. It would have meant a kind of victory for my enemies. If my bikes provide the thieves with money, the theft has meaning to them. But if I'd been killed by that woman, what meaning would there have been to my death? She neither meant to kill me nor avoid me. There was no consideration given to me as a fellow human being. I would have been a victim of apathy. By definition, my death would have been meaningless. I'm reminded of one of the final lines in the movie "Platoon." "Hell is the impossibility of reason." If I'd died for no reason, you could say in a certain way that woman would not only have killed me, she would have sent me to hell.
There are no good reasons for war, but of all the bad ones politics and religion are probably the stupidest. Yet I'd rather be killed by an obsessed Islamist for the Caliphate than some guy updating his Facebook status behind the wheel.
Nothing keeps my awareness of our careless nature sharpened more than riding my bicycle. I'm a near-victim of it just about every time I go out anymore. People in their vehicles are so distracted by wholly absorbed in themselves to the point that they go beyond a lapse in concentration. They're just not paying attention anymore. It isn't only an issue for cyclists, either. People die in auto collisions every day for no other reason than that we're just too damn busy to pay attention to our fellow man.
Another proverb comes to mind. "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing."
I think people assume that the expression means that there are evil people doing evil in the world, and to prevent their success good people must make efforts to stop them. I don't see it that way. The quote refers only to evil, not evil people. The difference is significant, because it means that evil does not require people to do evil things, only that good people do nothing. If you drive your car and don't pay attention to the road, if you don't have it in mind that there may be a vulnerable living being out ahead of you, then there are things you are not doing. It's possible that a husband or a wife, a parent or a son, a beloved pet or a sibling could die. The authorities will call it "negligent homicide" or "reckless manslaughter," but just because you didn't kill them with malice in your heart doesn't make them any less dead. You are not an evil person, but it's an evil thing to deprive someone of their daddy or mommy for the rest of their life. It's amazing what kind of evil can result from simply not doing things. When we talk about what it is to be truly evil, we invoke the names of people like Milosevic, Hitler and Bin Laden. We describe their deeds as "crimes against humanity." There's no disputing that what they did was horrible, but their crimes were against humankind. To my mind, a crime against humanity is a personal thing. It's that which violates the very essence of what makes us human. Simply failing to be human by falling into such abject apathy that we watch our fellow man suffer without feeling any urge to help them-- that is a crime against humanity.
There's a big debate about abortion laws and women's health in our country right now. No one is talking about adoption laws or orphanages. We get upset about how many people have died in Afghanistan, so we invent more drone aircraft and robotic weapons to remove troops from the line of fire. We don't engage in serious conversations about how our country decides to go to war and put those people in jeopardy in the first place. People still argue about corporate bailouts that happened years ago and complain about their mortgages. We're not taking enough canned food to the soup kitchens for them to stay open. People are fighting with each other about national health care this week. How many of us have taken the time to express how much we care for someone else at the same time?
In the context of that final question, I must admit that I feel truly blessed to know so many people that would show such great compassion and offer assistance. I am a rich man to have such good friends. But I would close these thoughts with a final reference to the Biblical tale of the Good Samaritan. Most people know of it-- a merchant was beaten by robbers and left for dead on the side of the road. Several other travelers passed him by, leaving him to certain death before a man from Samaria picked him up and gave him aid. The story doesn't focus on the robbers. Yes, they did evil, but there's no further qualification of their rationale. Maybe they were starving. Maybe they had to feed their children. I reserve judgment on them, because I don't know the reason for their action. But the story emphasizes the evil of those who pass by the merchant by holding the Samaritan up as a hero. The people who passed the merchant by may not be evil, either. But a simple robbery would have become a murder because of what they didn't do. What they did not do allowed evil to succeed.
For those of you who've found a reason to care about me and offer assistance this week, for those who have expressed anger over the evil done to me, for you who have shown the capacity to be a Samaritan-- I humbly make this request. Fight evil this week. Care. Find yourself in a moment where you are not doing something, and take hold of that moment as an opportunity not to fight the forces of evil that surround us, but those that spring from within us. Are you not walking a mile in another person's shoes? Are you not having a sincere conversation with the cashier ringing up your items in Wal-Mart? Are you not buying your wife flowers for no reason? Are you not pulling over and making sure the guy with the stalled car on the side of the road at least has help coming? Are you not tipping your server enough? Are you being careless with your actions behind the wheel? With your words on the internet? With the heart of someone who loves you? With the dignity of a stranger?
Kill your apathy. Rid yourself of the hellish emptiness bred of detachment from your brothers and sisters. Shake a stranger's hand. Touch a human being, get in touch with your humanity, and commit no crime against either of them. Care about people this week. Be considerate of others in your thoughts, and let those thoughts guide you to be careful with the lives and happiness of your fellow man. Do me a favor, and do a favor for someone you don't know. Do something, anything.
Just don't do nothing.
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