I looked to commiserate with a friend, a fellow golf fan who responded...well...with the way I should have known he would. He said, "It's another event done and we are now that much closer to football season." Wanting to enjoy the current season--spring and not have to think about fall--I responded by saying "It feels as though football is always in season. If it isn't the NFL draft, it's national signing day or spring football." But, in the story of the Heroic 7-Year Old Cancer Patient Scores TD in Nebraska Spring Game, I'm glad it is.
Sadly, it is a story that is in a small way, too familiar. A young boy named Jack Hoffman was diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer in April 2011. When former running back Rex Burkhead learned about Jack's struggle, he reached out and a friendship was born. This special bond led to what fans identify as the highlight of the annual Red & White spring scrimmage. Dressed in a #22 Cornhusker jersey--Burkhead's number--Hoffman lined up in the backfield and ran the ball for a 69-yard touchdown. The entire team met him in the end zone, lifting him in the air to recognize the athlete who had the most yards rushing in that particular game. According to ESPN, the 60,000 Husker fans inside Memorial Stadium were clapping and crying. It would be hard not to do both.
When asked what he was thinking about while running with the ball, Jack responded like every great athlete does, "I was thinking about scoring!" I however, was thinking of something much different. How is it remotely possible that a 7-year old boy is battling cancer? Why does that happen? He was able to play because he had a two-week break in his 60-week chemotherapy regimen. 60 weeks! I simply couldn't wrap my head around that. It was just too painful until I remembered some beautiful insights on suffering by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In "8 Spiritual Heroes" Brennan Hill remarks,
He encouraged his people to suffer with the belief that Good Friday may reign, for a day, but that ultimately it will give way to Easter. In an unusual article published in 1960 King shared the sufferings he had endured in the previous few years. He reviewed how he had been arrested five times and put in an Alabama jail; his house had been bombed twice and almost daily he and his family had received death threats, and on one occasion, he had been nearly fatally stabbed. He said at times he felt he could no longer bear the burden and was tempted to retreat to a quieter life. He came to realize that he could react with bitterness or he could find ways to transform the suffering into a creative force. He decided to see his suffering as a virtue, to see his ordeals and an opportunity to transform himself and to heal people involved in the tragic situation. King found that unearned suffering was redemptive. He concluded "The suffering and agonizing moments through which I have passed over the last few years have also drawn me closer to God."
Many people discourage comparing one person's suffering to another's, but King spoke openly and honestly of his own suffering for the purpose of what we can all come to understand in and through our struggles. Because of Jack Hoffman's suffering, Rex Burkhead is now a champion for increased awareness for pediatric brain cancer; he cared enough to find a way for a 7-year old boy to do what he should be able to do--play football. He "transformed the suffering into a creative force."
Seeing Jack on "4th and 1" take the ball from quarterback Taylor Martinez only to find a seam and run to the end zone may help "heal those involved in the tragic situation." His father Andy said "Husker fans have been incredible to my family."
His son's suffering is certainly unearned and yet it is redemptive for those of us who have been able to see and not take for granted just what a precious gift life is. I hope the Hoffman family understands that their son's journey through cancer and to the end zone has drawn me closer to God--if anything just to pray for him and others who share his pain.
The 2013 Red and White spring football game was a day of celebration, one like the 2013 Masters that I just don't want to put in the rear view mirror....
Jack and Rex
Running for TD