I Can’t Complain

Chucky Mullins

Perspective is like a Nissan Sentra. When you’re not looking for it you may not see it.  But spend a day trying to spy Nissan Sentras and you’ll be shocked by how many are on the road. Not sure if you came here looking for perspective but consider this post a four way stop sign with a Sentra at each stop sign.

I was sitting in a fancy Panda Express. Say what? I did not come to dish out oxymorons.  Though I did devour a jumbo shrimp salad. While chowing down I looked up at the television playing ESPN. See, I told you this was a fancy Panda Express. I could tell it was a documentary of sorts. Just as my eyes fully focused on the screen a player was being carted off the field.  Paralyzed.

I tried not to watch because this sort of thing just bums me out. Plus I couldn’t risk crying in a Panda Express. There’s no crying in Chinese fast food joints. But the conviction of the people being interviewed gripped me and wouldn’t let me go. Mind you, the sound was off and I was reading the closed captioning. Still, the emotion was palpable. These people were definitively touched by the event and by the people involved. I tried to refocus on my salad….

The kung pow chicken pairs better that I thought it would with the spicy shrimp…

Nope, back to the documentary. Maybe the other television would offer me respite.  A classic football game between the Packers and…who cares. Not even close, back to the documentary. Half way thru my salad I had to admit that I was all in. And in for the emotional ride that would follow.

On October 28,1989.  Ole Miss player Chucky Mullins collided head first with Vanderbilt fullback Brad Gaines. The impact shattered four vertebrae in Chucky’s cervical spine immediately paralyzing him. The documentary showed Chucky and Brad’s childhood and the events following the incident. People always sing someone’s praises after they die or suffer a serious injury but from all accounts, Chucky’s praises were well earned and in no way overstated or amplified by grief. A kid who lost his entire family by the time he was a teenager and begged a family friend to take him in to avoid being put in the system. Then he becomes a high school football star but is not widely recruited. Then he pleads with the head coach of Ole Miss to give him a shot on the team. Then he goes from an undersized bench player to a pivotal part of the team. Then he’s paralyzed on one play. The thing is, from all accounts, the guy never stopped smiling.  Through it all he smiled. Through it all he constantly made others happy with his smile. He never felt sensation beneath the waist again. But, shortly before he died he was able to move his hand across his body and touch his chest.

I may not be able to complain about anything for a very long time.

Brad Gaines was devastated. He became withdrawn and was hobbled by guilt. His response was to become friends with Chucky. Go to Ole Miss and face his torment head on.  And even til this day he visits Chucky’s gravesite 3 times a year and personally cleans it. It’s not often that you’re equally humbled, inspired and challenged from the same source. The cameras came to capture the story but I could tell the greatness of Chucky Mullins and Brad Gaines was a story Hollywood documented but could never create.

Apparently my public cry threshold is greater than my home threshold.  I did not cry.  Next time I go the fancy Panda Express I will sit far away from the television.

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