Archive for December, 2011

The Day I Was a Hero


I am not a brave man. My life is filled with more acts of cowardice than of courage. But for some, incredibly bizarre reason when I was in graduate school I found myself hanging out with the Jesus Freaks, of all people. And they saw me differently.

It really made good sense at the time. The girls were cute, not on drugs and if Paris was worth a mass, a few of them were worth the occasional bout of speaking in tongues. And because I tend to be rather outspoken and not given to paranoia, they thought of me as being incredibly fierce and courageous.

It was April of 1973. And there was, and probably still is, a black fraternity that would hold its annual convention at Southern Illinois University. And folks were genuinely afraid of them, which made no sense to me. After all, they react to bullets the same way everyone else does so I really never paid much attention to it.

Well, we had a coffee house, The Upper Room, in those days. The building is long gone, replaced by an expanded train station decades ago. It lives now only in old photographs with people, most of whom I no longer even remember their names. But that Saturday I took a walk to the coffee house to see if anyone was there, and of course the street was full of the convention goers, all having a good time and not bothering anyone. So I walked in to find the the two young men assigned to running the place that day and they shouted, “Praise God! It’s Chuck!” as if the hand of the Almighty was not sufficient, they needed this rather small and insignicant young man to protect them from the barbarian horde.

But they truly believed it. And with me there to guard them they went about their work fearlessly, not quivering at the thought of someone coming in to do them harm. Their savior, in their minds at that moment their true savior, was among them. His name was not Jesus. His name was Chuck.

And their savior sat with them, drinking his favorite tea, not knowing that the time would come when he would look back on that day, before he was the Prince of Darkness, before his friends called him Darth Vader, before he was the Terrible Uncle Chuckie, archfiend, psychic terrorist, Agent of the Antichrist, when he was just Chuck.