I’m crying while writing this in my car. My doctor just told me I have a health issue that could kill me, he actually said those words. …I have kids and a wife, and I’m scared as hell. Tell me a story, man, I need cheering up.
A WORRIED MAN
When I finished school, I decided to try my hand at writing professionally. I got laughed out of a newsroom.
An editor told me to “Go find some kick-ass stories, then maybe we’ll talk.”
Of course, I’m not a “kick-ass” type of guy. My expertise is more in the half-assed arena.
Anyway, I got into the habit of visiting nursing homes for stories. I’ve visited multitudes of them. I’ve met some stone-tough people there.
I remember one in particular. I’ll call him Tom.
In his young days, he was a high-school coach in a one-horse town that had a water tower and a party line.
He’d never had a winning football team. In fact, some seasons he had to shut down the football program—there weren’t enough players.
One summer, doctors diagnosed him with cancer. He got so depressed that he stayed indoors and gave up living. He resigned before school started.
One day, he laid in bed, feeling sorry for himself. He heard heavy footsteps on his porch. All day, the footsteps. One pair after another.
He kept his curtains drawn.
When the footsteps finally quit, he peeked through his window. There were so many bouquets and thank-you cards on his porch that people started leaving flowers on the sidewalk.
On the first day of school, a friend called to tell Tom that thirty-some boys signed up for the football team—more applicants than the school had ever seen.
The young players, however, said they would not play unless Tom came back to work.
Thus, the coach donned his whistle. He ran practices, speed drills, and two-a-days. He taught smooth-faced boys how to be somebodies.
“Best time of my life,” said Tom. “Even though I was going through treatment at the time.”
His team won games—not many—but they raked enough victories to climb higher than they ever had.
And on his last game of the season, Tom was weak, pale, twenty pounds lighter than before. The boys gathered for a pre-game talk.
“Guys,” said Coach Tom. “I ain’t got nothing to say that you don’t already know. You’ve taught me more than I coulda ever taught you. It’s been a joy knowing you.”
I’ll never forget Tom.
As it happens, cancer didn’t kill him. He lived a long, full life, until his mid-eighties. The room he died in was peppered with photos of young men in jerseys.
Boys he claimed saved his life.
I don’t know why bad things happen. I don’t know why the world hits hard enough to knock your helmet off. And I don’t care.
Because I know miracles happen. So help me, I do. I’ve seen them. Little ones. Big ones. I’ve shaken their hands in hospitals, drug rehabs, halfway houses, high schools, and nursing homes.
You are a hero, friend.
You just don’t know it yet.