Friday, March 23, 2007

Character in Adversity

A recent article in the IndyStar featured Bill Garrett, who became the first black to play regularly in the Big Ten in 1947. I was saddened at how little I knew about this basketball great. At a time when he was still refused service at local restaurants, he handled nasty comments and derogatory sentiments on the basketball floor with dignity and resolve. He was by all measures the best man in the worst possible situation. More than a pioneer, he leaves a legacy about how to handle adversity.

Earlier this week my husband shared a story about a small community group that saved their change to eventually build a community center in their modest neighborhood. The KKK attended the building dedication and offered to pay the mortgage on the building - if they were allowed to conduct their meetings there. The Indiana community amidst deep Klan roots, declined. So much is revealed about people in challenging times.

Fast forward 60 years from now, as people are reading about you - what story will they tell? I had to wonder myself, what would those around me say about how I handled the extreme stress of our current situation. I'm not crossing the color barrier, becoming the first black to do this or that - but at times it does indeed feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. There was something broader than Garrett's role in basketball to be learned from the article.

Many people will never quote the statistics of Bill Garrett's 3 seasons with Indiana University, his coaching skill that guided state champions, or his larger than life athletic skill. The quiet depthy of his character and his inner peace through all that came his way seems to cover ever statement made by those that knew him. Others simply cherished what his principled approach meant for their ability to play collegiate sports after his time was done.
So, I fast forward to today. What will my neighbors, peers, friends, parent teacher fellowship members, family, and others say when my season is over? Will they speak to unyielding faith, resilience, strong moral character - or will they have a different truth. I am reminded once again that the images we see in entertainment, on television and even in politics - are but for a season. The lasting story is the legacy that we will leave behind. I can't help but believe that Bill Garrett's wife Betty has a full story of her own - raising accomplished children as a widow, and living the story we all read. I am filled with gratitude at the reminder that life is not a dress rehearsal. If we are to set and establish a standard that others will follow, that time is now.

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