When I was sixteen years old my family moved to a small town in Iowa half way through the school year. It wasn’t the first time I had to make new friends and start from scratch, but I admit I was intimidated by the small class sizes. I integrated quickly because I joined the basketball team. The season was coming to a close and I was told there was a parent’s night. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I mean, I imagined a bunch of parents and a potluck dinner.
I told my mom about it but she was exhausted from work and my father lived a couple hours away so he wasn’t able to make it. In my oblivious teenage fashion I show up for the parent’s night only partially interested and soon realized this was a lot bigger deal than I had thought. There weren’t just parents. Entire families showed up to this thing. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and grandparents. I was instantly horrified. The bleachers were set up to watch some sort of show and the podium was centered in the gym. My attention turned toward the lectern and I started rationalizing. It was obvious that we would be recognized in front of our families. No big deal. Nobody needed to know my family wasn’t there. As we lined up for our trek across the gym floor to get recognized I realized that the Moms and Dads were escorting each of my teammates across the stage! I had no Mom or Dad and I was the only one. My heart sunk. Anxiety filled my lungs and I started to panic. Why had I not made a bigger deal of this night? Why had my mother not thought enough of me to join me? Why am I sixteen years old, all alone in a gymnasium full of caring family members and none of them are mine?
Names kept being called and another set of proud parents walked the sweet apple of their eye across the floor. My mind frantically ran through escape scenarios. I could run out the back door. I could fake being sick and run out the front door. Oh why, oh why am I going to be humiliated in front of all of these people? Just then my name was called. I froze. Just then, I felt an arm lock in mine and a man led me across the gym floor. The man was the father of the teammate behind me. I looked back and saw her mother nod me off as if to say ‘go on, I will walk my daughter out’. The man that rescued me from crushing embarrassment was Coach McNeill. He was the boy’s basketball coach so I didn’t know him well. How did he know how desperate I was to have someone with me that night at that very moment? How did he know I wanted someone to save me from the humiliation of a lonely walk across that stage? How did he know to grab my arm in that moment? I am so grateful for his intervention.
Not only did Coach McNeill’s act of kindness that day warm my heart and bail me out of an absolutely agonizing situation, but it greatly impacted my life. The difference he made echoes through me and has a ripple effect into the next generation. I want to make a difference like that one day. I keep my eyes open for the opportunity to be the one to walk with someone in a time of need. I became a life coach for this reason. I know it also affects and impacts my daughter. She sees my example, the example set for me all those years ago. A thoughtful gesture in a moment in time can make all the difference in a person’s life. I have Coach McNeill to thank for that gift.