Thursday, September 20, 2012

Leukemia and Sports Reveal the Spectrum of Life...And the Face of Christ

Twelve tackles by Manti T’eo, the star linebacker for the Fightin’ Irish, helped Notre Dame secure a huge victory over Michigan State in East Lansing. As the clock ran down to the final seconds of the game, T’eo took one knee and looked up at the scoreboard. Notre Dame 20, Michigan State 3. In that same moment, he took a deep breath and his eyes welled up with tears. Although no words were said, every fan recognized this was much more than just a game.
Earlier that same week, T’eo’s beloved grandmother and girlfriend died. His girlfriend, all but 22 years of age, lost her battle with leukemia. Losing two women that he truly loved, he turned to his own family and his football family. He needed to be with them. He said, “football allowed me to be in a little realm, a little world where I know I can honor them by the way I play." Football provided respite from his grief for but a few hours. He could channel his energy to create as Mother Teresa said “something beautiful for God.”

Once again, I was reminded of the spectrum of life. I thought about the death of someone old and someone so young; a loss is a loss. And then looking at this strong, able-bodied athlete whose heart and mind came to play a game, I thought of those who cannot because of injury, age or illness. I was reminded of one such young man that day. It was hard not to.

In between coaching girls at a cross-country invitational, a parent of one of my athletes approached me with a flyer in his hand. It featured a familiar smiling face; it asked me to “Be the Match.” 
It reads: Benjamin is 19 years old. He is a San Francisco native and city boy at heart. He studied at St. Ignatius College Preparatory - where he played Varsity Football. He recently came home from his first year of college at the University of Arizona. After several doctors appointments, tests, poking and several weeks of waiting Benjamin was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in August 2012. Ben is the youngest of 4 children and his siblings were unfortunately not a bone marrow match. He is a loving son, brother, uncle, cousin, nephew, grandson, and friend to many. He is Mexican American, and his lifesaving donor will likely come from someone with a similar ethnic heritage.

The parent, Sherman Yee was excited to share that our school community has organized a Bone Marrow drive for Ben on October 26. He informed me St. Ignatius College Prep has run off over 1,000 copies to spread the word. I was moved by his conviction of hope; every person that gets registered not only increases the odds that Ben will live, but that someone else will too.
I was holding back my tears not because of the fact that Ben has already been through two rounds of chemotherapy or that he has this cross to bear. Ben is a lover and a fighter. No, something deep inside my heart was moved; once again I saw the face of Christ.

The obvious example is the face on the flyer. It features Ben as we know him. His smile is pure and true. Whether he knows it or not, he is a sacrament. People from the SI community and beyond have been moved by his story to donate to the National Marrow Donor Program in any way they can.

But the Christ that met me amidst the busyness of coaching 70 girls at an invitational with close to 1000 runners, was in the face of this parent, Sherman Yee. It is one gift to make a flyer. It’s another to pin it up. But it’s an entirely different matter to go around to hundreds of people at the cross-country invitational, give them one to keep while telling them Ben’s story. Sherman Yee doesn’t see his actions as being a big deal; it’s second nature for him. But I couldn’t have done that. I would have left the flyer on a table and hope people might read it.

Jesus is God made flesh. He is the incarnation. He became one of us because we all need a little of that human touch (thank you Mr. Springsteen). He can be seen in the football player who makes tackles to honor his beloved. He can be seen in a young man fighting Acute Myeloid Leukemia. And he is revealed in a person doing what they are naturally good at—talking to people and rallying behind a cause.

I’m not sure why He continues to show me His face in unsuspecting people and in unlikely places, but He does. I suppose like Manti or Sherman I can only do what I know to do—tell you about it through the written word. It is my way to honor Him.

Photo Credits
Bone Marrow Donation
Manti #5
Manti Standing Tall
Rembrandt Face of Christ

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