Last fall, I met my writing idol, Mitch Albom. The famous journalist was the keynote speaker for a Cancer Awareness Symposium held near Dayton, Ohio. Like hundreds of other mostly Ohio fans, Albom signed my copy of his book, The Time Keeper. Then he let my husband snap our photo together, which I promptly posted to Facebook.
It’s increasingly difficult not to see the literary genius of this Detroit Free Press columnist. Albom’s book writing genre was originally sports-related, although several have dealt with spiritual issues. They include “Have a Little Faith” published in 2009, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” (September 2003) and 1997s “Tuesdays with Morrie.” All of which were made into movies.
“Tuesdays with Morrie” continues to sustain popularity probably because it addresses one of the most challenging issues that individuals must face; human mortality. It wasn’t predicted to be a bestseller, but years and millions of copies later and counting, readers have voiced their opinion.
In the book, Mitch Albom and Morrie Schwartz explore the reality of death and the lessons learned in life. For fourteen consecutive Tuesdays, Mitch interviewed an elderly Schwartz; his former college professor who was dying from (ALS) Lou Gehrig’s disease. Albom quotes Morrie as saying people don’t talk about death, because “no one really believes they are going to die.” Admittedly, death can come as a shock when it occurs in our inner circle, because it isn’t supposed to happen to us or to the people we love. Or when we hear of another family’s tragic loss we sometimes feel guilty, because we are grateful that it happened to someone else. So, we hug our spouses and kids a little tighter, hoping to stave off this inevitable grim reaper
It was almost a decade ago, when the question of death began to preoccupy my own thoughts. At the time, I was waiting for the results of a biopsy for a relative who I love more than my life. During those long days of waiting, I tried desperately to busy myself with distracting activities, so I opted for a little “Retail Therapy.” While spending time shopping, I first heard the now classic country tune, “Live Like You Were Dying” being sung by Tim McGraw.
Don’t stone me, but I’m not a big country fan. Yet the lyrics stopped me in my tracks. The song is about a man in his early forties whose medical tests reveal that his time on this Earth will be short. When asked what he did when he got the news, the verse says, “I went sky diving, I went Rocky mountain climbing…And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter, and I gave forgiveness I’d been denying…And I finally read the Good Book and I took a good long hard look at what I’d do if I could do it all again…”
While listening to these poignant words, I stood motionless in the store aisle clutching a pair of kitchen curtains, fighting back tears. My faith crumbled. I was fearful that the song was some kind of prophetic preparation for the bad news that was soon to be relayed concerning my loved one’s biopsy. Thank God, I was wrong. The physician’s verdict was “no cancer.” I was so relieved that I can’t remember what the doctor said after that. But since then sometimes these challenging lyrics come back to me.
Like recently, when just days before the pool closed for the season, I heard Live Like You Were Dying over the loud speaker there. It’s been almost a decade since I had first heard this tune, and I now view life a lot like Morrie Schwartz. Because I think it was Morrie’s wisdom that taught me to try embrace whatever life stage you’re in as I traveled through his last days with him thanks to Albom’s writing.
You see, on the very day I met Mitch Albom, I had buried a precious 41-year-old friend after her valiant three year battle against breast cancer. Making me all too aware how fragile and brief this life can be. Albom’s Morrie didn’t become an iconic example of how one should die, but rather how one should live especially in a society that seems terrified of both growing old and death. In parting, a bit of Morrie’s sage advice, “Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die. It’s also the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”
Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. This column originally appeared in The Lima News, & Troy Daily News, among others. Contact her through her Website: www.christinaryanclaypool.com
What may be to some a mere coincidence is to others a divine appointment. For me, meeting Coach Herman Boone at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, on the night of January 22, 2009 still seems more miraculous, than coincidental. I had gone alone to the ONU English Chapel simply as a spectator to hear the famous coach speak about, “…The Importance of observing the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.” Boone made national headlines in 1971 when as head football coach at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, his team won the state championship by overcoming enormous racial tensions.
T.C. Williams was comprised of three newly integrated schools that year. Boone and his assistant coach, Bill Yoast, who had been a successful head coach at one of the former schools joined forces to lead the Titans to victory. The friendship that developed between Boone, a black coach with an impossible task, and Yoast, a winning white coach is truly inspiring. The Titan’s story was so inspirational that Coach Boone made headlines again in 2000 when Walt Disney Studios released the now classic movie, “Remember the Titans.” Starring Denzel Washington as Coach Boone, the film is a vivid reminder of the courageous pioneers in the Civil Rights movement.
It wasn’t only Boone’s incredible tenacity in the face of adversity that impressed me, but it was also his ability to make rival teams come together. Therefore, when I originally watched the movie, I found the interviews with the “real” Coach Boone fascinating. Although, Boone doesn’t resemble Denzel Washington, he jokes about his imaginary likeness to the Hollywood star.
Concerned that I might not get a seat at ONU that night, I arrived an hour early and found a place way off to the side in the front row. Some Lima Senior High students filled all the seats nearby, except for one empty chair next to me. Then shortly, before the program started an older black man of small stature asked if it would be ok if he sat next to me. I recognized him instantly from the movie’s special features. It was Coach Herman Boone. I invited him to take the seat, which seemed reserved just for him. While waiting for the program to start, Coach Boone began to converse with the boys from nearby Lima Senior High School. He let them know in no uncertain terms, that he didn’t care for sagging pants and that no respectable young man should wear them. The high schoolers were polite, which was good, because I could tell they had no idea who he was. Thankfully, the boys weren’t wearing sagging britches.
Then Herman Boone turned to me, and we chatted briefly. I told him how deeply the movie inspired me, and he smiled graciously. When Coach Boone addressed the crowd, he shared about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saying, “[We] gather not to remember Dr. King’s death, but to remember his life…not the sadness of losing him… [but] his message of peace and love [that] was universal.” Dr. King taught us all the importance of relationship, and Coach Boone shared about the way the Titans became a team by learning to “talk to each other….We had problems, but we found a way to respect each other,” he said.
The other night, “Remember the Titans” was showing again on the Family Channel. This time as I watched it, the film seemed like far more than just an inspirational story. After all, I met the real Coach Boone. More than 70-years-old at the time, he greeted countless ONU and community students patiently answering their questions following his message. When it was finally my turn, I asked the coach if he thought divine intervention helped him to win the 1971 state championship. Without hesitation, Boone answered, “I think so…I’m a believer in God…God does work in mysterious ways sometimes…”
Dr. Martin King, Jr. had a dream, “That one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
Coach Boone had a dream, too, and he found a role model in Martin Luther King, Jr. “In the face of danger, he motivated me and my family,” he said. If we are honest, we all have dreams. May the legacy of Dr. King and Coach Boone remind us to fight for our visions with perseverance, faith, and the non-violent weapon of love. In the words of the inspiring coach, “..Let us continue to dream, because dreams have no expiration date.”
Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Originally published in The Lima News.