2016-06-30
I recently read a thought-provoking article by Rick Reilly in Sports Illustrated. Reilly, who has become one of my favorite sports writers because of his ability to capture stories of human interest that transcend athletics, devoted a column to professional football player Donald Driver of the Green Bay Packers.

Driver stole many cars during his youth in Houston. His nickname was Quickie. "I could drive pretty good. Anytime anybody in my family needed a car moved, I'd say, 'I'll do it.' That's how I learned to drive. I probably stole 20 or 30 cars and only had to jump out once." As Reilly noted, that "once" was to alter Driver's life forever. It occurred when he was starting the engine of a stolen car and heard police sirens. He sped away but crashed into a car driven by an elderly woman who was backing out of her driveway. Driver leaped from his car and began to run, well ahead of the police.

Although in all likelihood he would have escaped, something prompted him to turn around to check on the elderly woman. She was not injured, but by that point the police were turning the corner to her house. She looked at Driver and said, "Go sit on my porch." Without knowing why, he trusted her. When the police approached, she said that the person who rammed her car had fled. They wondered who was the teenager sitting on her porch swing.

She answered, "Oh, that's just my grandson."

The police left. The woman yelled at Driver, "Get in this house. Why do you do this, young man? You could be doing so much more with your life!"

Reilly noted, "Her kindness that day changed Donald Driver. Not overnight, no. This isn't a made-for-TV movie. He stole another car or two, took that money and bought drugs, which he says he never used, only sold for more money. But her little kindness grew in him."

Shortly thereafter Driver's mother sent him to live with his grandmother, who lived close by. He joined the drill team at his grandmother's church and played three sports at the local high school, including organized football for the first time. The voice of the elderly woman continued to echo, "You could be doing so much more with your life!"

After high school Driver attended Alcorn State where he starred in football and track and obtained his accounting degree. He noted, "I always wanted a job where you wear a suit." He took a detour from a career in accounting when he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the last round of the 1999 professional football draft, the 213th player chosen. What an unexpected prize for the Packers!

Driver pushed himself, honing his talents to the point that he has become a star in the National Football League. His salary reflects his dedication and impressive skills (this past year he signed a five-year contract extension worth $11.5 million). However, in my estimation his stardom as a football player is overshadowed by his activities off the field. He is reported to do more community appearances than any of his teammates. Reilly reported that Cathy Dworak, the team's manager of community relations, observed, "He's a wonderful man. He's always smiling, fun, positive. He calls me up and asks if there are any appearances I need done. Can you imagine?" Driver has done more than 300, and any honorarium he receives is deposited in the Donald Driver Foundation, which assists people in need.

Reilly added that Driver's mother and grandmother are doing fine as are his siblings, one of whom became a minister. "Oh, and so is the old lady with the porch swing-the one he calls Grandma Johnson. Quickie usually calls or visits her whenever he goes back to Houston, just to say thanks one more time for saving his life..

The story of Donald Driver and Grandma Johnson reinforces several of my basic beliefs about a resilient lifestyle. One of the most important is that during our lives we will be presented with numerous opportunities to serve as what the late psychologist Julius Segal called a "charismatic" adult, a person from whom children gather strength. Obviously, this occurs on a daily basis for those involved in raising and/or teaching children. However, opportunities arise in many different ways and, fortunately, most are not nearly as dramatic as Grandma Johnson's car being rammed by the car stolen by Driver. Think about your life and ask, "For whom am I serving as a charismatic adult?" Simple acts of volunteering such as tutoring a child, delivering food for the elderly, working in a soup kitchen, coaching in a youth sports league, being a Big Brother or Big Sister are just a few examples of placing oneself in a position from which others gather strength. Being available to one's children, writing a note of appreciation to a friend or relative, preparing a meal for a sick neighbor are other examples..

In ending this article about chance meetings, compassion, and personal choice, I should like to offer the words of Dr. Victor Frankl, a renowned psychiatrist who survived the horrors of a concentration camp. He poignantly captures the significance of caring and personal control when he writes:

"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken away from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

As we begin a New Year, may the words of Victor Frankl resonate within each of us. May we perceive seemingly chance meetings as invaluable opportunities for growth for ourselves and for others. May we recognize the power of "choosing one's attitude in any given set of circumstances." And may we become more influential in determining the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

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