Chance Encounter After Game Shines a Different Light on LifeDoes life consist of random events or is there some deeper meaning behind what seem to be chance encounters and situations? That may seem like a bizarre way to open a post on a basketball blog but, believe it or not, I think about a lot more than basketball--and I actually spend more time thinking about stuff like that than I do about hoops, which is saying something considering that I regularly produce 2000+ word articles about basketball (a normal person would probably say that I overanalyze everything, including hoops, but I'm not normal so that critique does not really make sense to me even though I can understand why someone else would have that perspective).
The reason that I posed the above question here is that on my way home from Cleveland's 96-79 victory over Charlotte I stopped at a rest area and met a veteran named Chris Wood; he is retired from active duty and works third shift as an attendant at the rest area. I don't know why he started talking to me in the middle of the night/morning and I'm not sure why I stayed to listen--but I did stay and listen as he told me about serving our country during the War on Drugs in Colombia and taking a bullet that went through his leg and into his back. He had to have fusion surgery in his back and although he is fully ambulatory now he is still dealing with the physical and psychological effects not just of his injury but of everything he experienced during his service. More importantly, three of his kids have taken ill with various problems that he attributes to the effects of Gulf War Syndrome; after recovering from his injury, he served in Operation Desert Storm and part of his duties involved handling canisters captured from the Iraqis--Wood does not know what was in those canisters but he is just one of thousands of veterans who have either become ill and/or had family members become ill after serving in Iraq. I am not an epidemiologist, so I have no way of knowing whether or not Gulf War Syndrome caused his children's illnesses but his and their suffering is very real regardless of what the cause is.
Before I spoke to Wood, my thoughts were focused squarely on LeBron James' "problem": he does not make a high enough percentage of his free throws.
Chris Wood's problems relate to life, death and the health of his children.
Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? Is James' "problem" more significant because millions of people watch him on TV? If an alien flew here from another planet and observed Earth without contaminating his mind with our cultural constructs about what and who is important, would he be able to distinguish one person's "value" from another's? Would he come to the same conclusions that our society has regarding that question?
Wood seemed to need someone to listen to him and perhaps at that moment I needed to listen to someone. Many other people walked in and out of the rest area during that time without paying the slightest attention to either of us. I wonder if they thought that he and I were longtime friends instead of strangers who had just met? I wonder if they thought anything at all other than about whatever had been on their minds as they pulled into the rest area? Sometimes I feel like the more I learn and experience the less I understand--or the less things makes sense. What if I had arrived at the rest area five minutes earlier or five minutes later and never crossed paths with Wood? What if I had never stopped there at all? Does this interaction have a deeper meaning or is the significance that my mind attaches to these events simply the brain's way of attempting to explain something that is purely random? Optical illusions can occur when the mind tries to create order or "fill in the blanks" when the eyes convey information that does not make sense; is "meaning" a cognitive illusion that the mind constructs to avoid facing what would otherwise seem to be a random and at times cruel reality? To put things less abstractly--What is the meaning and purpose of Wood's suffering and the suffering of his children? What is the meaning and purpose of Wood telling me his story at the time and place that he did?
Just as Wood felt a need to share his story with me, I felt a need to share my reaction to his story. Maybe all of this seems to have nothing to do with basketball but it was such a powerful experience for me to have my mind and my emotions redirected so quickly from thinking about the Cavs game to thinking about everything that he has gone through and is still going through. This impacted me in a way that I don't quite understand but it will always be a part of my memory of this night--and now that I have shared Wood's story with you it will always be a part of your memory of this night as well.
After talking with Wood--really, I did more listening than talking--I told him that I hope that everything works out for him and his family. He confidently replied that he believes that it will. I spoke with him long enough to realize that he would not want anyone's pity but perhaps before you go to sleep tonight you might say a prayer not only for Chris Wood and his children but also for all of the servicemen and servicewomen who sacrifice so much so that we can have the freedom to concern ourselves with James' free throw percentage and all of the other things that seem so important to us most of the time but fade to insignificance in the face of real problems and real tragedies.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:07 PM