Friday, February 13, 2015

Greater Love

Don't get me wrong; it's certainly a form of heroism to join the military or a police/fire/EMS service, because the simple act of entering those ranks means that one is ready to make the ultimate sacrifice, if that's what unfolds.  Think about that the next time you grouse about a speed cop writing you a ticket - he or she is sworn to protect your life at all costs.  And the same with those who go into the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines or Coast Guard. It's their choice and they take it seriously.

But maybe we need another word for a higher designation among them - the most special of the special people, because to me, it dilutes the truly heroic deeds of those who valiantly lay down their lives in the service of others when everybody in the class is called a hero.  Some people serve for years and never find themselves in a situation that requires super amounts of bravery and courage and strength and know-how.   We never know how the cards will be dealt.

And it's not just people in uniformed services who can be heroes. I'm thinking now of two people we lost just this week - one famous worldwide, one hitherto unknown until this week.  Both were heroes.

Dean Smith is the man you know as the head coach for the basketball team at the University of North Carolina for 36 years. His accomplishments in gymnasiums, getting young men to play great basketball, are well known.  But how about the fact that, as early as 1964 - three years after taking over a scandal-ridden UNC program - Smith became known for promoting desegregation in the South, which took amazing courage, that being the time when civil rights workers in this country were routinely killed by their opponents.  Smith, a local minister, and a black North Carolina theology student entered a segregated restaurant in Chapel Hill, and when they left, The Pines was an integrated restaurant. 

(Doesn't it seem amazing to think that just over 50 years ago in the Land of the Free and the Brave, not all citizens could go to whatever restaurant, movie theater or amusement park they wished?)

Charlie Scott, Dean Smith
Dean Smith also integrated the Tar Heels basketball team by recruiting Charlie Scott as the university's first black scholarship athlete. Off the court, he helped a black graduate student buy a house in an all-white neighborhood. Coach Smith opposed the Vietnam and Iraq wars and the death penalty, and supported gay rights and a freeze on nuclear weapons.  

He should have been president.  Coach Smith died this past weekend from complications of advanced dementia.  He lived for 83 wonderful years.

On the other side of the city of Baltimore lies a community known as Brooklyn Park, where, the other morning, a fire broke out in the parsonage of the United Brethren in Christ Church.  The pastor, Samuel Sinnah, lost his wife Lettitia and his son Sundima Sinnah, 17.  Christopher Rickman, a 45-year old man living across the street, ran into the house to try to save the woman and her son, and lost his life in the bedroom fire.

Especially in a time when we find out about a news anchor who tried to pass himself off as a survivor of a downed war chopper, although he was an hour away, it is reassuring to know that we still have people who try to make a real difference.  Mr Rickman, Coach Smith, we salute the heroes you are.

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