Influencing Others for the Better
Michael J. Graham, S.J.
Homecoming Weekend, 2003 Edition, has come and gone, leaving many good memories in its wake. But one memory in particular really stands out—just like it always does. Once again this year, the annual Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Banquet was an unexpected surprise. I always expect it to be about sports. It’s always about so much more. By now, you think that I would have learned.
We certainly had a worthy class of inductees. David von Haeffen (’94) is the first member of the Hall of Fame inducted from the golf team. His career here marked a crucial turning point for the golf program. Before his arrival, Xavier had never won a conference championship, and during his career, we never lost one—not even to Notre Dame. Amanda Gruber-Creech (’98) wrote and rewrote the record books for women’s soccer. She still owns the records for both points and goals scored in a single season and in a career. And then there was Jamal Walker (’91). Jamal was the CBS/ Chevrolet Most Valuable Player of the game that put Xavier basketball back firmly on the map, when we knocked off Alonzo Mourning’s Georgetown to advance to the Sweet 16 back in 1990.
What was surprising to all of us in attendance, however, was how little each of the inductees spoke about sports. Instead, they talked about what they remembered most—about classmates and, especially, teammates. They praised the people who made them feel at home. They talked about the example their parents set for them and how they couldn’t possibly have achieved what they achieved—let alone be where they are today—absent the interest that so many others took in them. They reminded us all—and reminded us vividly—that not one of us ever accomplishes anything on our own—no matter who, no matter what. For all of us are webbed more deeply into a world of relationships than we could ever imagine. And that’s a good thing to be reminded of because it poses an important question, namely, just who is there around me right now who I might somehow influence for the better?
The banquet got me thinking about some other things as well, and pretty profound things. For example, as we celebrated David, Amanda and Jamal’s accomplishments, there was a whole host of stuff that we didn’t celebrate—or, if we did, we celebrated it implicitly, between the lines, so to speak. There was all the hard work and sacrifice it took for them to become the players, the competitors they were, and all the things they gave up so they could pour themselves out that much more in the way that they did. Nor did we speak of the loses they endured, the shots they shanked, the judgments they made that were less than perfect, or the times they might not have lived up to their own best standards of good sportsmanship. We also didn’t talk about any of the hard and difficult times that come inevitably to an athlete, no matter how gifted.
And as this year winds down, there seems to be an important lesson in that for you and for me. It’s as if, somehow, the further back we step from these lives of ours—looking at the general shape and pattern of our lives, at the whole forest and not just the particular trees—the more the picture begins to glow with the good. It’s not that the hard stuff goes away exactly, but you just see it against a different backdrop. You begin to see your life perhaps in the way that God sees it most of the time as we try, more or less successfully, to live the life of grace and grandeur that we have been given.
I don’t know about you, but the end of the year inevitably brings with it an invitation for a little bit of longer-range reflection—even though the hectic holiday pace often mitigates against it. But if sometime over the holiday season you find yourself surrounded by those you love best and feeling nothing but thankful for it: well maybe that will just be reflection enough. God’s warmest blessings to all of you throughout this splendid season and into the new year.