Tuesday, November 18, 2014



"I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floatin' around accidental-like on a breeze. But I, I think maybe it's both."  (forrest gump)

    I knew nothing of this man and his family that started sitting in front of us at Georgia Tech football games some 15 years ago or so.  But over the next  15 years we were afforded the opportunity to get to know a fine soul, one that tolerated me becoming sometimes loud, sometimes stupid, sometimes, uh, "over-served."  There in section 206 he and I  became buds, we became philosophers, we became coaches  (convinced that we knew full well what needed to happen on this play, this fourth down or in this time-out than more-so than anyone Tech had on their payroll.)  A good day was one where I went home with my hand stinging because he and I had exchanged so many high-fives.  

     However accidental it was that he and his beautiful family ended up part of our lives, the years that followed acquainted me with his destiny - To make everyone around him happier, better, stronger and feeling important and good about themselves..  It didn't matter if it was family, stranger, someone getting their chemo treatment at the same time he was getting his or just some goober sitting behind him at a ballgame.  Perhaps it was his destiny to be that feather that floats on the breeze in and out of lives that needed him..  For a large chunk of the time that I had the pleasure to watch those ballgames with him, I was in terrible health due to large amounts of excess weight.  There was a time when my family had to consider whether or not it was safe for me to go through the rigors required of climbing to the upper tier of that venerable old stadium.  I was, quite often, mocked in public, pointed at, laughed at and became a sideshow for many sad folks. It often made me rather reclusive, the game was - after all- going to be on t.v. (and a Georgia Tech football game was sometimes the only time I'd even consider putting  myself in a crowd.)  But knowing HE would be there I insisted on getting there.  And  there he was, just glad I'd made it, not seeing the fat guy, not seeing  the one getting help going up and down stairs, I was just ME and he always seemed glad to see ME. Many times he offered to get me a bottle of water or something from the concession stand knowing that navigating stairs more than I had to wasn't possible.  He'd asked how I was feeling but without dwelling on it.  Instead, he knew I was there to talk football and I imagine he knew that the time I spent talking it with him took my mind off much sadder issues that usually occupied my mind.  He never mentioned my weight to me until I lost  a CONSIDERABLE amount of it and could then bound up and and down those stairs like a teenager and get my own bottle of water.  THEN he took a minute to shake my hand and say "You look great."   He could've slipped me a wad of cash and it wouldn't have felt any better.

     We got word that his fight was over very early Saturday morning, just as I'd started loading tailgating necessities into my truck, getting ready to watch the boys play their final home game of 2014.  We contemplated not even going to the game wondering if that would show a a certain measure of disrespect to the passing of our friend,.  But in those pre-dawn hours we decided there was no greater measure of respect that we could show him than by being there and being very loud.  At our tailgating festivities we drank a toast to him (though I'm not sure he approved of such libations) And then, in the third quarter,  I stood up on my row and gave the loudest "WHAT'S THE GOOD WORD???????????!!!!!!!!!!" cheer that I've ever mustered for the inhabitants of section 206.  Those around us joined with great gusto, emboldened by the beating those wearing white and gold were throwing down on Clemson.  I'd like to think he heard us and laughed.  Many times over the years he and I dared each other to give that cheer our best shot.  My bride told me that on this Saturday she'd never heard my voice get that loud.  I told her I must've had some help.  Speaking of getting some help, those poor boys from Clemson didn't stand a chance.  I like to think Bill was somewhere, giving a push the likes of which he could've never given from section 206   At least one son of Tech did, indeed,  "arise, behold!" 

The spirit of the cheering throng
Resounds with joy revealing
A brotherhood in praise and song,
In memory of the days gone by.
Oh, Scion of the Southland!
In our hearts you shall forever fly.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Returning to the scene of the crime...

     The crime in question started 14 or 15 miles down the road with a simple doctor's appointment in Buford, Georgia.  I'd been fighting bronchitis and,  as everyone that has known me my 50 years on earth, a simple respiratory infection that is a nuisance to most quickly becomes something that kicks my posterior, all because of respiratory issues I inherited from our dear Mother (all the sweet things I COULD'VE gotten from her but I got bad lungs...anyway.)  On  October 21, 2014  I went to see why this infection was hanging on so long and  had beaten two rounds of antibiotics and why I couldn't take a shower or pour a cup of coffee without having to sit down and rest afterwards. 
     The doctor came into the room and after the obligatory "Who's Tech playing this week?" (my doctors know me well)   He put a stethoscope to my lungs and heart and said "Dang....that ain't right" and looked outside the exam room door and hollered at his nurse  - "BRING ME THE EKG AND CALL GWINNETT COUNTY!!!"   I figured they'd had a toilet backing up or low water pressure and wanted the county to come out and see if they could fix it!!   No, he was summoning some brave young men from the fire station right up the street to come and take me somewhere for help.   I asked him what was wrong.  He said "I need you to relax.  But you ARE in A-FIB at the moment."   I asked for an explanation.  He said "It means you're not going home....we're going to the hospital."   Again, I asked him for an education on A-FIB.  He said "either you've had a cardiac episode or you're about to have one....either way, we need to get you to a hospital.....but relax."    Hmmmm...ok...there's a pack of wild dogs chasing you and you might survive....or you might end up supper.....but relax.
      When these brave young men arrived (I'm  fairly certain that I have socks older than all of them) I was - in spite of my fear - impressed at the way they went about their work. The one in charge told the doctor (after seeing my EKG) "We're not going to Gainesville (where my doctor wanted them to go)   We're not taking that chance.  We need to get him someplace closer."    Not exactly words of comfort.  They decided to take me to Northside/Forsyth in Cumming, apparently figuring I'd live that long!  As we made our way out to the ambulance  I told one of them that he probably  would've eaten a bigger bowl of Wheaties if he'd known he was going to have to drag ME into the back of a truck.  His response - "I ain't lost one yet, Mr. Freeman.  Me and you both are about to go for a ride."   I wanted to give him a big man hug.  He was right....we both got in the back of that truck. And we both made it to Northside Hospital..
     I say all of that to say this.  During that ride, despite hearing transmissions from ambulance to hospital telling them how far out we were and what EKG was showing and to make sure they had this, that and the other thing ready to stick, strap and glue to me,  it wasn't my demise I was most afraid of facing.   I knew it was a possibility but it became a separate issue.  What was at issue was the fear that I might cross into whatever happens to us  when we leave this very temporal existence without seeing the sweetest, most perfect face I know ever again.   She's the soul that braved taking me as her own.  She's the soul that had a thousand other chances in life but decided I was the one she wanted to live with "til death do us part." I just didn't want that to be right there, right then.
     Long story short (too late, right)  she made it to the hospital and the grasp of her hand felt better than anything they'd given to relax me.  The minute she was there she became two people. The RN I married and my wife.  She was asking doctors questions and keeping a close eye on monitors.  With her there, I felt like  I was gonna' beat this thing like a rented mule. Still, it was touch and go for a while (as my heart wouldn't find normal rhythm until they forced it to with a dose of electricity late into my second day there.)    But that very first night, after they moved me to a room on the cardiac floor,  she fell asleep with her head on the railing of my bed, not letting go of my hand, refusing to be comfortable anywhere else.  Again, it made me realize I was walking out of this damn hospital and nothing would stop me. And a bunch of tests and procedures later (some of which hurt like hell - I've never had a needle puncture the lining of my lungs) I did, in fact, get in her car and come home and sit in my recliner and pet my Labrador Retriever.
     Fast forward to yesterday, when I went to a professional building next to the hospital for a follow-up appointment with one of the specialists that saved my life.  I saw an ambulance flying around to the emergency entrance.  I felt compelled to follow.  The ambulance parked.  And so did a woman nearby who got out of her blue car and broke several olympic records running to the ER entrance to meet the soul being rolled down the same hall I'd recently traversed.  I watched her and I cried because I imagined my own angel running across that same parking lot and felt guilty that I'd put her through that.
       Her favorite show comes on tonight.  I'm gonna' cook her a steak and rub the feet that she works on all day while she watches that show.  And I'm going to say a prayer for some folks we know that have taught me what life and love and eternal things are all about.  They've done this all while watching  their husband and father (one of the finest spirits I've encountered)  fight something far worse than what I faced.  To my boy I say this...let those 3 lovely ladies take care of you and think  "THERE ya' go...."  (which I've heard you say with every Georgia Tech first down.)
"So, if I had a barrel of rum and sugar 3,000 pounds....a college bell to put it in and a clapper to stir it 'round.  I'd drink to...."   THAT good fellow.......
(And also to my cousin Patrick who - standing in my hospital room - told me he missed my writing.  You lit this fire....)