Last Friday I was witness to the power of encouragement — and the flip side of that — in two different ways.
Episode One: Knowing that I’m a Duke fan, my wife Susan bought us tickets for the Duke-Mercer game in the NCAA tournament’s round of 64. Duke was expected to win in a cakewalk, but ended up with a pie in the face. Mercer proved that experience and cohesion as a team can trump a couple of NBA prospects who will be “one and done,” and the Bears deserved to win.
I’m convinced that another factor contributed significantly, too: Mercer fans packed their section of the arena with orange regalia, cheered with great enthusiasm, and created considerable energy for their underdog (underbear?) team. Meanwhile, Duke supporters in blue were scattered here and yon with no discernable concentration, and the “Cameron Crazies,” Duke’s famous sixth man, were notably absent: I suppose monied alumni got the tickets for the Duke section, or perhaps Duke’s students chose going to class over attending the afternoon game. Those who were present (and I was among them) sat back with a rather ho-hum attitude, waiting for Parker and Hood to work their magic while watching them commit turnovers and leave the back door open with alarming consistency.
Duke led by several points with a few minutes left, but melted down the stretch, and I’m convinced it was partly because all the energy in the room was supporting Mercer, and the Blue Devils didn’t have the maturity to overcome it.
Episode Two: As we departed the arena, we’d gone less than 50 yards when I saw an unsteady middle-aged woman reach out to a man who appeared to be her husband, saying “Please take me to the hospital!”
She then collapsed to the pavement, dropping the cane she’d been leaning on and landing on a leg that was enclosed in a metal brace. Susan, who’s a nurse, immediately went to the woman’s aid, kneeling beside her head, checking her pulse, making sure she could move her limbs, and asking the sort of questions that first responders know how to ask.
The putative husband, meanwhile, remained standing. “Somebody call 911,” he said, and that’s the closest he came to offering any help or comfort. While his wife lay on the ground, he loudly defended his use of a handicap space by saying his wife had a permanent back injury from a wreck in 2009, and that he had only sent her inside to get a refund on tickets to an upcoming Bruno Mars concert. (And why did he sit on his able-bodied behind while making her hobble inside?)
“It’s a simple task,” he shouted. “What happened in there to cause this?” While continuing to ignore his wife, whom he apparently thought incapable of performing a simple task, he argued with quick-arriving arena officials, casting blame on their ticket department for his wife’s condition.
The woman appeared to be stable, though weeping quietly. After emergency personnel arrived, the man continued to harangue everyone in earshot, showing no real concern for his wife and seeking to blame anyone but himself for the present state of affairs.
The man’s public display of domestic abuse left us to wonder what other griefs the woman has to suffer at home. Her collapse in a public parking lot, as much as anything, could have been a cry for help.
The encounter left my stomach in a knot: I don’t often see such displays of cruelty, though I know they are not uncommon.
It doesn’t take much effort to encourage others, but it can make a world of difference. Cheering for someone won’t always make them victorious (Mercer lost big to Tennessee in the next game), but it makes them feel loved and appreciated. It gives them the strength to keep pushing on.
As Myron Madden has often reminded us (as in this sermon), there is great power in blessing others. We can withhold love or acceptance and damage others’ souls, or we can bless them with love and encouragement. Both have lasting effects.
In our hands and our words, we have the power to bless or to curse.
For God’s sake and for others, let us bless.