What Road Do We Choose?

This past week I witnessed all citizens of Stark County, Ohio come together to celebrate the lives of seven men as they were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. These men were white and black, from different backgrounds and regions of our country, and one was born in Denmark. They were all embraced into our family and judged only by their accomplishments on the field of play, and admired for their character.

I also witnessed the people of Stark County rally behind a great organization called “Wishes Can Happen”, to help young people with critical illnesses. No one asked if they were black or white, from Democrat or Republican families, Jew or Gentile. They just rallied to give unconditionally.

I played football at Iowa State University with a group of great men from Miami, Fla., to Omaha, Neb. These men came from poverty and wealth, black and white families, and from a variety of backgrounds as diverse as possible. We played as a team, regardless of these differences, and through this, we became brothers. Forty years later we just rallied behind our quarterback and teammate to raise over $25,000 in three days to help him battle cancer. We didn’t judge whether we would give based on labels created artificially by this world. We didn’t hold back our giving and love because he was black or because of his politics. We, like those volunteers who welcomed the Hall of Fame Inductees and those who gave over $180,000 to help Wishes Can Happen give joy to those families with critically ill children, gave because we saw a brother in need, a fellow human being, and out of unconditional love.

Contrast this with what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend. Strangers hating and fighting strangers, not even knowing the individuals they fought. Not seeing fellow children of God, instead labeling, categorizing, and judging based on color, and political persuasion, and willing to kill and hurt instead of heel and help.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”.  How is it possible for one to hate another just because of skin color? How is it possible that one can want to hurt another because of religious belief or political ideology? Think on that for a while, and try to imagine why. It happens mainly because we become lazy and base our relationships with others on perception driven by others and fear, instead of a willingness to get to know each as an individual. Building relationships one at a time is hard work, has risks, and causes us to be vulnerable. Being willing to see another to his or her soul, and judging another on character instead of color or any other external, man made definition, is the road less traveled these days. It is the only road that can save us, however, individually and as a whole.

Look around; we have signs all around us daily to guide our paths. Four thousand volunteers, black and white, rich and poor, welcoming recipients and guests from all different races, backgrounds and regions of our nation to our community.

People of a community from all persuasions rallying around an organization that doesn’t ask race, nationality, or religion, but only “what is your need and your wish”.

Teammates rallying around a teammate in need forty years later, without hesitation, nor thoughts of whether he agrees with me or is my color. The only thoughts center on, “He is my brother, and he is in need”.

Two roads to choose from, and the starting points are very deceptive. One is well lit, has thousands of travelers offering support, and allows us travel in a group and with baggage. The other is less traveled, asks us to strip off the backpack containing anger, blame, and the “group think” mentality. This road also requires you to begin the journey alone, finding your own way.

One road is named Hate and the other is Love. The hate road seems safest and accepting, while Love can be scary, solitary and leaves us vulnerable. The road of Love causes us to have to look at things differently and to maybe judge ourselves rather than others, with the reality that we will be ridiculed and ostracized by those traveling the other road. Traveling the road of love, one must lose the baggage of preconceived notions, long held beliefs, and self-righteousness. Hate promises companionship with like-minded souls who will support and embrace us. The deceptiveness lies in the fact that the beginning of both roads looks much different than the destination. Those traveling down the once crowded road of hate soon become burdened by the baggage of lies, self-righteousness, and unfounded perceptions. They soon realize that those who embraced them and offered safe passage become fewer, and their beliefs are without merit. When they reach the end of the journey they join a few other disillusioned, empty souls, exhausted by the meaningless journey.

Those who began the solitary journey down the road of love soon discover the freedom of their burden being lifted. They have a renewed strength in knowing that they have discovered their own way, free from what others think, and free to walk at their own pace. They also discover, as they near the end, that it is more crowded with those making their own ways from other side streets; all without baggage and all discovering that their destination was worth the journey.

Those who partake in separation rallies, such as the one this weekend in Charlottesville, chose the easy road. The road traveled with like minded travelers who offered the ease of hatred and group think. They gain the notoriety, the fame, and, in the end, the emptiness of broken promises. However, most will continue down that road emboldened by self-righteousness and blame for the other side, not ever realizing that both sides are traveling the same road of deceit.

Contrast this to the road taken by those volunteers and the people of Stark County, who welcomed everyone, rich or poor, black or white, Ohioan or not, to our community, and the hundreds of thousands who lined the parade route to celebrate our inclusiveness, all different, but all one.

Contrast the road to Charlottesville with the road that allowed WHBC and Aultcare to help Wishes Can Happen to raise over $180,000 in two days to help critically ill children and their families. No labels assigned, and none asked for.

And finally, contrast the events in Charlottesville with a hundred men, forty years after we ever played on the football field together at Iowa State University, raising over $25,000 in two days for a teammate battling cancer. Not asking why, or dredging up differences, but just giving out of love and brotherhood, and after forty years.

In the end, the road we choose will determine our legacy, and the destination of our lives, both individually and collectively. The road we choose will determine if we live our lives in bitterness, burdened by the weight of the lies and empty promises, or with lives of freedom, based on individual growth and the joy of knowing that all men and women are my brothers and sisters. What road will you choose?