This city doesn’t deserve Richard Cassidy. There is more venality, more sanctioned abuse, and more ugliness percolating under and on the surface of Winston-Salem than I ever thought possible when I stepped onto the chess board two years ago. Last night the best human being I have ever met was viciously attacked by one of the very people he has dedicated his life to saving. Today my friend Richard Cassidy sat in his hospital room with slashes across his neck and his arm bandaged where he’d been cut to the bone with a hunting knife… and he was smiling.
There were bloodstains in his bed where the stab wounds in his back leaked overnight and a nurse has to put drops in his eyes after a mentally ill person tried to gouge them out in an attempt to end Richard’s life. Through all of his wounds and pain Richard Cassidy smiled at me… and you know what he asked me to do? He asked me to pray for the man who attacked him. Jermaine Antwan Tart tried to murder my friend… and all Richard is concerned about are the struggles and pain of the man who wanted to end his life. I’m not a religious man… but today… for the first time in my life I think I witnessed the kind of love that would lead a man to allow people to nail him to a tree just to save his brothers and sisters. We should all be so blessed to know a man like Richard.
Last night, just after 8pm, Richard was doing what he’s been doing all winter. He was helping the poorest and most vulnerable people in Winston-Salem. One of those people, Jermaine Tart, recently had his medications stolen from him. Living on the streets is already a harsh challenge made even more brutal by chronic mental illness. Jermaine has been living that nightmare without even the slight relief of meds that keep him solid and sane. At some point this tortured soul went off of the rails we all struggle to keep our own wheels on. Last night he chose one of the few people in the city with enough compassion and love to help him. Why was Richard available to Jermaine? Because most of us were safe in our houses, a donations-length from reality. Or perhaps we’re even one of those people who blame the poor and the homeless for their challenges. Maybe that is how we make ourselves feel better as we hide in our houses watching the Oscars. Richard does none of those things. Neither do the volunteers that were on duty last night at First Presbyterian. Those volunteers showed courage that is rarely seen off of the battlefield. Even as Richard was being transported to the hospital they were asking the police if they could proceed with the night’s intake process and get the homeless off of the street and into shelter… even after one of “Those folks” had tried to butcher Richard in the street. That is courage.
When Richard left the Loaves and Fishes building across from the Central Library he had no idea that his life was in danger. According to Richard he was having a conversation with Jermaine when the young man started to talk incoherently about “snowshoes”. As they got closer to First Presbyterian Jermaine grew more unintelligible. Then he attacked. Richard went down hard while several of other homeless people tried to push Jermaine off of him. The kid came up with a hunting knife and everyone scattered. A local documentary filmmaker who had been walking with Richard and the others ran out into the middle of Marshall St., flagging down one of Winston-Salem’s finest. The patrol officer jumped out of his car and grabbed Jermaine. As the mentally disturbed young man was being pulled off of the seriously wounded Richard Cassidy, he was telling the policeman that Richard had a knife.
All of this horror took only a few seconds… for Richard it was a life time. He told me that when he was being attacked and wounded all he could think of was the pain and suffering Christ had endured willingly at the hands of his own tormentors. Even in that moment of pain and terror, Richard was considering that his Savior had endured far more and had done so willingly. In that moment Richard realized that he would willingly lay down his life and suffer for those he loves. What should have been the most awful and violent thing to ever happen to Richard Cassidy became a moment of spiritual contemplation and transcendence. We should all be so blessed to know a man like Richard Cassidy.
Our friend will recover. He is gravely wounded and has had to undergo surgery. He will be released from hospital care sometime in the next couple of days. Rather than complain about his pain, Richard spent our time together emphasizing how wonderful the staff at Baptist Hospital has been. Rather than reacting with anger, Richard told me about a female police officer who knelt next to him as he laid there bleeding on the sidewalk… and she just prayed with him. She prayed for Richard and at Richard’s request she prayed for Jermaine.
There are a lot of people out there these days that would like the rest of us to believe that they have some special claim to holiness and salvation… they don’t. Could you pray for blessings on the man who had just tried to murder you even as that man was being hauled away by police? If I am honest, I can say that I would be calling for Jermaine’s blood. Not Richard Cassidy. No, y’all, Richard Cassidy is the real thing. Richard loves in a way that very few can. Yes, pilgrims, this city doesn’t deserve Richard Cassidy… but even I said a prayer this afternoon thanking our Creator that he is here. We all owe Richard our thanks. I know I won’t ever take him for granted and I will thank him every day that he remains with us.
Thank you Richard Cassidy for showing us all how strong, self-less, and beautiful a human being can be. We love you… and this would be a darker place without your light.