I always knew I wanted to be a writer. As a child, I wrote stories, poems and even published my own family newspaper. I sold it to my mom and dad for 10 cents. It was my first paying job in journalism.
When I went to college, I still had aspirations to become a writer. But I also wanted to be a fraternity boy. Parties. Dates with pretty sorority girls. Nothing, it seemed, was more important to me than those fashionable Greek letters.
I went through rush, but the fraternity I wanted to join did not offer me a bid. I was black-balled.
It’s not easy to deal with that kind of rejection when you’re 18 years old and still trying to find your way in the world. I was crushed.
A few months later, I was walking down a hallway in the dormitory. I don’t know why I was on this particular hall on the third floor. My room was on the seventh floor.
I passed an open door and heard someone call my name. It was a guy from one of my classes. I did not know him well, but he recognized me and invited me in to visit. When I sat down, I noticed some Greek letters on his bulletin board. I was not familiar with the fraternity, so I asked him about it.
He told me he belonged to a service fraternity. There was also a social aspect to this fraternity — the guys liked to party and have a good time — but the major emphasis was on service projects on campus and in the community.
He asked if I would like to attend a meeting. No rush. No bids. No obligation. Just show up.
Within a few months, I had pledged. I made lifelong friends — brothers — and still stay in touch with many of them. But, more than anything else, that fraternity instilled in me a heart for service I carry with me to this day.
So, one of the biggest disappointments of my life paved the way for one of my greatest joys.
Was it a coincidence that I walked down that hall that day? I don’t believe in coincidences. A friend says they are simply those moments when God chooses to remain anonymous.
I carried that heart for service with me when I graduated and began working at The Telegraph. Once I got settled in Macon, I became a volunteer with Big Brothers/Big Sisters. For the next four years, I mentored a young man from a single-parent home. I believe I made a difference in his life, and I still keep in touch with him and his family.
Not long after I began volunteering with Big Brothers, a cute little Mercer University cheerleader was hired as a social worker.
In two weeks, we will celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary.
We have built a beautiful life together and co-authored three wonderful sons.
So, of course, I still think about that “road not taken” all the time. How different my life would be!
In the 12 years I have written a column for this newspaper, I have been able to combine two of my greatest passions — telling stories and helping people.
They have shared their lives with me across kitchen tables and wide front porches, in parking lots, pool halls and church pews. I have laughed with them. I have cried with them. I have attended their graduations. I have delivered eulogies at their funerals.
And, all the time, I have tried to step up and reach out. I have served on boards and planning committees. In the name of charity, I have bagged groceries, taken ballroom dancing lessons, dressed up as Elvis, waited on tables, served as a bus tour guide, got “locked up,” played in golf marathons, sold brooms door-to-door and read Dr. Seuss to so many schoolchildren every page in “The Cat in the Hat” is dog-earred.
But it has been much more than hammers and dancing shoes and giving up a Saturday morning to judge chili cook-offs.
I have tried to use the power of a newspaper column that reaches thousands of people as a vehicle to connect the folks who need help with folks who can — and want — to help them.
On Friday night, I was honored and humbled to receive the 2010 Will Rogers Humanitarian Award at the National Society of Newspaper Columnists convention in Bloomington, Ind.
And, yes, I have reflected and wondered where I might be and what I might have been doing this weekend if that college kid of long ago had been delivered those Greek letters he thought he wanted.
I certainly don’t think I would have been at Indiana University, accepting an award named after one of America’s most beloved heroes, Will Rogers. I wouldn’t have been wiping away a few tears, while holding a replica of the same statue of Rogers on display at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
What’s that line from the old Garth Brooks song? Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.
I would like to dedicate this award to the people of Macon and Middle Georgia, the readers of this newspaper who inspire me. You are my role models. You are my heroes. I count you among my greatest blessings.
You see, I told the folks in Indiana that where I live and work, a humanitarian is not just a word used to describe someone who does good deeds. It is a way of life.