These are not the words I expected to hear from my wife of fifteen years - she who bleeds Carolina Blue as much as anyone who subjected themselves to seven years of indoctrination in Chapel Hill for undergraduate and law school (and yes, this Demon Deacon married her anyway. True love). She doesn't have any family with Spartan ties. I'm not even sure she's been to Michigan. True, her Tarheels lost a heartbreaker the night before, ending their run in the NCAA Tournament, so there's a vacuum to fill. But pledging allegiance to a school she knows little about? My curiosity was piqued.
When she told me it was because of "that Adreian guy," I wasn't surprised. This is the same woman who cheered loud and proud on SuperBowl night for the Seahawks because she saw the Derrick Coleman commercial and how he overcame his deafness to rise to the height in his profession. My wife is always a sucker for a sweet human interest story. And really, aren't we all?
I saw something pop up in my Facebook feed over the weekend about Adreian and Lacey, so I was well aware of the story: an adorable little girl who is battling a horrific form of nerve cancer, the odds stacked against her; and the mammoth collegiate basketball star who met her on a team hospital tour. I go to hospitals for a living and always to see a specific person, so I have little idea what it would be like to go because it's a team activity, community service, and then to happen to meet someone you instantly connect with. That was two years ago, and Adreian and his "little sister" have been inseparable. She's been to MSU basketball games; he's attended her fundraising events. She helped him cut down the nets when the Spartans won the Big Ten Tournament. And she accompanied him when he was honored on Senior Night:
But there's more going on here. The story of Adreian and Lacey hasn't been retweeted/shared/liked millions of times because it's a sports story. It's a human relationship story, and you and I were made to be in relationship with each other. We were designed for connection on an emotional, mental, physical, spiritual level.
Not too long ago I was flipping channels and stumbled on the movie Castaway; Tom Hanks playing the stranded pilot lost on an island by himself for two years. It was around the time Wilson entered the picture. You remember - the wayward volleyball which made the journey through someone's luggage. He made a face on it using his own blood - the very source of his life, the deepest connection. He would talk to it, laugh with it, argue with it. One of the sadder moments in the movie was when Wilson got swept away in the surf as Hanks rafts away from the island in hopes of being rescued.
Connection. Our life literally depends on it.
I had this high school English teacher my junior year I don't remember much about, save one thing. We were in class one day, discussing a book we were reading – typical 11th grade material; I think it was Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. We were talking about the interplay between the characters, the dynamics of their relationships. And that’s when Mrs. Norton offered up an absolute gem: "Every person that you come into contact with in your life," she said, "no matter how long or how short you know them, every person becomes a part of who you are."
Over twenty-five years later and I've never forgotten that. The trick, though, is recognizing that reality in our everyday life and acting on it. And that's the real beauty of Adreian's and Lacey's story. When it would've been easy, even expected, to remain in their respective roles and view the other in theirs - a basketball player touring a hospital, a young child getting cancer treatment - they allowed themselves to heed the wisdom of my English teacher and allow a connection to take root and grow. They allowed themselves to impact another life. And just as importantly (and often the more difficult thing), they allowed their life to be impacted by another.
I can't help but wonder what it would be like if we all made a habit of doing this. Of assuming that, at any given moment, we are right where we're supposed to be, right with who we're supposed to be with. And when it'd be so easy for us to keep our distance and for them to keep theirs, what would happen if we reached out through a kind word or smile, just to see where it took us? Just to see what connection might occur? That kind of stuff requires a certain level of risk; a certain vulnerability we typically shy away from. But life itself is risky business, no?
I'll be rooting for Lacey in the rough road she has ahead of her, keeping up with her journey on Twitter. I don't know that I'll be able to fully side with Michigan State in their Sweet 16 game later this week against Virginia later - we ACC people tend to flock together come March Madness. But I won't be totally bummed if Adreian's team wins. Besides, if you ask me, the young man has won already. In a big way.