Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house. -Luke 11:17
I don’t know what possessed me, other than the fact that I was 12 years old, to join the Cardinals, a kids’ football team in my neighborhood. Looking back, it turned out to be a life changing decision. In the two years I played with them, I learned a lot, a lot besides how to rush the quarterback. I learned that in life there are winners and losers and if you wanted to be anybody, you had better be on the winning team. (The Cardinals never lost a game in those two years, 1957 and ‘58). I learned that there is a hierarchy of respect on a team. After the coaches (they were gods), the quarterback was top man on the pole, then came the running backs, the ends and then the lowly linemen—that’s what I was. Then there are the “strings”—I was second string. The girls’ job was to cheer us on to victory. Of course, no one ever voiced these life axioms and maybe the football field was really not more important than the classroom, but that’s what I learned.
Looking for a job after college, the fact that I played football always seemed to come up in the job interviews. I don’t ever remember the fact that I was a lineman or even second string discussed, just the fact that I played football. I eventually ended up teaching at a school for “bad” boys (The principal said and I agree, they were boys with bad problems) and I can’t help think that I passed all the hurdles for that teaching position because of my having played football as a kid. I lost my teaching position after ten years and decided to try another field of endeavor, selling. Salesman made much more money, and of course that makes them much more important on the greater world stage or so my thinking went.
Today at the ripe old age of 77, I realize that the most important people in my world were and continue to be, my teachers: my parents and church who loved and cared for me; my little sister who was “profoundly mentally disabled” and needed 24/7 care; the boys at the school where I taught, who intuitively knew they were not getting what they needed (respect and love) in the hierarchical school system they were forced to attend; the pets and animals in my world which only as a retired person have I had the time to really get to know; and finally the plants I’m learning more and more about these days. Did you know plants have twenty senses compared to our five?
I’m learning that what makes me godlike is not my superiority or how much money I make. That is divisive and as today’s scripture selection from Luke suggests leads to destruction. What makes me godlike is my willingness to get totally enmeshed or in love (at one) with the world around me and to say: “Thank you God!” I pray that I might keep learning—it’s a lot of fun.
Dan O’Donnell is a Passionist Partner and a longtime friend of the Passionists. He lives in Chicago.