--Ralph Waldo Emerson
It is only a bicycle after all, a simple two wheeled mode of transport, designed to get me from point “A” to point “B”. The bike I ride isn’t anything all that complicated: stainless steel and rubber, weighing in at 18 pounds. I’m no speed racer. With a determined cadence and some middle aged muscle, I roll along at an average of about 13 miles per hour, so I won’t be setting any land speed records. And the cycling clothes I wear are…well…kind of strange looking, weird: skin tight black lycra, day glow nylon, padded in the right places to keep my backside comfy, stretched taut over a body which admittedly has seen better days in 53 years of life.
But here’s the miracle. This bike is more than just a bike. This bike can actually make the world a better place. Just one bike. One rider. This bike can ease the pain of a sick person. Give hope to someone in the hospital. Inspire those who lost to death and disease loved ones. This bike might even help find a cure for cancer someday.
Because this bike (and bike rider) is riding in the 34th Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), the first weekend next month. The PMC is the largest athletic fundraiser in the country. Since 1980, it has raised almost $500 million for cancer care and research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. This year’s goal is $40 million dollars, so that when a neighbor is diagnosed with lung cancer, or a family member with ovarian cancer, or a co-worker with prostate cancer, or a fellow church member with lymphoma, there will always be world class medical care and compassion for them.
And that makes the world a better place.
The PMC is a huge happening, a communal, gigantic affair. Think 5,500 riders and 3,000 volunteers from 36 states and eight countries biking through 46 Bay State towns. Or the 160,000 bicycle strokes it takes to get from the hills of Sturbridge to the dunes of Provincetown. Boatloads of bananas for eating, a platoon of Porta Potties for nature calls, and then there is that weather. Will it be sultry summer heat or drenching muggy downpours or sun dappled shady conditions? The PMC is a big deal.
Yet the PMC is also a small deal, personal, intimate, a solo enterprise. For like every other individual act of human kindness, generosity and care which makes the world a better place, the PMC begins with just one person. A man or a woman who decides to sacrifice in the service of others. Who commits to raise the funds (often thousands of dollars) and train their body (hundreds of hours on the road) and ride as an act of love. When the long journey is over no one can dispute that Creation is better because of it. Lives are filled with a little more mercy because of it. Hope is given to people who are sick. A group of strangers who begin the ride on Saturday morning are transformed into a world changing community.
All because every single rider made a decision and a commitment to make the world a better place.
It’s fashionable these days to be cynical about the person who declares she really does want to make the world a better place. “What’s really in it for them?” we might wonder. It’s easy to see all the ways the world is broken and then just roll over and give up. We are daily bombarded with bad news by the media and in social chatter. It’s all too typical to lose ourselves in our gadgets and our dramas and our daily urgency. Who’s got the time to do good for others?
Yet every single day God gives us the chance to improve the real estate we occupy as human beings, to leave the world better than how we found it . With a smile for someone who is down. A visit to a neighbor who is lonely. A generous check to a charity serving the hurting. A “good job” for a kid we coach. A bag of groceries dropped off at a local food pantry. A prayer whispered for someone who needs help. No big deal. It really doesn’t take much to bring more light into Creation.
So my tool for social change is a bike. It is only a bike but man: it is going to change the world in just a few weeks! You’ve still got time today to make the world better too.
What will you do?