by Father Mark Goldasich
My mom died on Tuesday at the age of 101.
Because of this, The Leaven staff offered to run one of my previous columns in this spot in order to give me a break. As I considered this, my mom’s voice sounded in my heart: “Don’t use me as an excuse! Do your job. Write your column.”
OK, Mom, but I’m going to fudge a little bit and present a longer story here than usual. Over the past few days, it’s become more relevant than I ever imagined. Here it is:
Some years ago, Columbia University had a great football coach named Lou Little. One day, a boy tried out for the varsity team who wasn’t very good. But Lou noticed something unique about the kid — while he wasn’t good enough to make the team, he had such a relentless spirit and contagious enthusiasm that the coach thought, “This boy would be a great inspiration on the bench. He’ll never be able to play, but I’ll leave him on the team to encourage others.”
As the season went on, Lou developed a tremendous admiration for this boy. One of the things that impressed him was the manner with which the boy cared for his father. Whenever the father would come for a visit, the two would always be seen walking together, arm in arm, an obvious indication of an exceptional bond of love between them. They could also be seen on Sunday going to and from the university chapel. Theirs was a deep and mutually shared Christian faith.
Then one day, Lou got a telephone call, informing him that the boy’s father had died. With a heavy heart, he informed the boy, and the son left immediately to go home for the funeral.
A few days later, the boy returned to school, only two days before the biggest game of the season. Lou went to him and said, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
To his astonishment, the boy said, “Let me start the game on Saturday!”
The coach thought, “I can’t let him start; he’s not good enough.” But remembering his promise, he said, “OK, you can start the game.” However, he resolved to only leave the boy in for a few plays and then take him out.
The day of the big game arrived. To everyone’s surprise, this boy who had never played in a game all season started. In the first play from scrimmage, that boy was the one who single-handedly made a tackle that threw the opposing team for a loss. The kid went on to play inspired football, play after play. In fact, he did so well that the coach left him in for the entire game. The boy eventually led his team to victory and was named the most valuable player.
Afterwards, Lou approached the boy and said, “Son, what got into you today?”
The boy replied, “You remember when my father would visit me and we would spend a lot of time together walking around the campus? My father and I shared a secret that nobody around here knew anything about. You see, my father was blind. I played the way I did today because this was the first time my dad could see me play!” (Adapted from “Illustrations Unlimited,” edited by James S. Hewett.)
I could imagine my mom in this story. While I was growing up, she was able to keep a pretty good eye on me. And, at every parish I’ve been assigned, she’s enlisted the help of parishioners to “keep me in line.” But her sphere of influence was always limited.
Now, however, all of that has changed. Like the dad in the story, my mom is in a position to see me, every moment of every day.
So, I’m left with no choice. I’ve simply got to up my game and be the absolute best I can be. After all, Mom is watching.