Life’s lessons

The Washington Times Weekly - - National -

In Oc­to­ber, this colum­nist was visit­ing a tiny “out is­land” in the Ba­hamas mea­sur­ing three miles long by a quar­ter-mile wide. Few peo­ple live on the is­land, which one only reaches by boat, so the fact that one of the is­lan­ders — “Pops” — was wear­ing a Wash­ing­ton Red­skins cap im­me­di­ately caught my eye.

“I’m the only Red­skins fan on Har­bour Is­land,” gushed the Ba­hamian, point­ing out that other lo­cals who hap­pen to fol­low pro­fes­sional foot­ball cheer for the Mi­ami Dol­phins, their sta­dium be­ing 175 miles to the north­west.

Pops didn’t hes­i­tate rat­tling off the names of his fa­vorite Red­skins play­ers, in­clud­ing cor­ner­back Shawn Springs, and he spoke highly of Joe Gibbs — nei­ther of us re­al­iz­ing, of course, that it would be the fi­nal sea­son for the leg­endary coach who brought three Su­per Bowl tro­phies to Wash­ing­ton.

A week or so af­ter en­coun­ter­ing Pops, I hap­pened to be seated be­hind Red­skins owner Dan Sny­der and his wife, Tanya, for a movie pre­miere in down­town Wash­ing­ton. I im­me­di­ately told them about this lone Red­skins fan on an is­land so small that roost­ers roam its streets right along­side the peo­ple.

Mrs. Sny­der’s eyes lit up, telling her hus­band how nice it would be to send Pops a pack­age of Red­skins keep­sakes. The en­thu­si­as­tic owner agreed, and he asked if I might be able to find the mail­ing ad­dress for the Ba­hamian. I ex­plained that there are no street num­bers on the is­land be­cause there’s no mail ser­vice — not even a post of­fice.

How­ever, I as­sured the Sny­ders that on my next visit to the is­land I would gladly carry how­ever many Red­skins sou­venirs I could squeeze into my suit­case and present them to Pops on their be­half. So it was agreed.

A lit­tle less than two weeks ago at Red­skins Park in Ashburn, Va., Mr. Sny­der had wait­ing for me a card­board box with Pops’ name on it filled with ev­ery Red­skins trin­ket and col­lec­tors’ item imag­in­able, in- clud­ing an ex­tra-large bur­gundy and gold foot­ball jer­sey — # 24 — au­to­graphed by Shawn Springs.

In or­der to reach this par­tic­u­lar cay in the At­lantic Ocean one flies by small plane to an iso­lated airstrip on an ad­ja­cent is­land and from there hops aboard a small wooden boat steered by which­ever Ba­hamian hap­pens to pull up to ferry you and your lug­gage the rest of the way for the in­cred­i­bly low price of $5. (It was $4 un­til OPEC raised the price of crude.)

Fif­teen min­utes later, as the sun dipped low in the late af­ter­noon sky, my bag and I were de­posited on a prac­ti­cally empty dock stacked with empty crates and fish pots.

And then it hap­pened: one of those amaz­ing co­in­ci­dences in life, a “small world” story that for all of us springs up from time to time. I stepped off the dock, rounded the cor­ner, and it can’t be, can it?

By golly, it was him. With­out think­ing twice, I im­me­di­ately dropped my can­vas bag and un­zipped it, re­veal­ing my Red­skins stash. Now it was his eyes that grew wide.

“What are you do­ing here?” I asked.

“What are you do­ing here?” he an­swered.

“I’m de­liv­er­ing th­ese sou­venirs from the Sny­ders to a lo­cal Red­skins fan.” “You’ve got to be kid­ding me!” Coach Gibbs grabbed the No. 24 jer­sey and held it up to show his wife, Pat.

“Can you be­lieve this?” he asked her.

He ex­plained that they were tak­ing a rare vacation, is­land-hop­ping for one week on a char­tered yacht. Un­for­tu­nately, there wasn’t enough time to find Pops, or else the Ba­hamian would have had the shock of his life: gifts from the Sny­ders and per­sonal greet­ings from the Hall of Fame coach alike.

When I fi­nally did track down Pops, the Ba­hamian was speech­less, hardly able to wait to show off the foot­ball mem­o­ra­bilia to his fam­ily and one Dol­phins fan in par­tic­u­lar. He thanked the Sny­ders for their gen­eros­ity, and ex­tended an in­vi­ta­tion for the cou­ple to visit his friendly is­land.

None of us, in­clud­ing Mr. Gibbs, knew at that mo­ment what we know now: that Mrs. Sny­der was be­ing treated at the Mayo Clinic for breast can­cer. For what­ever rea­son, how­ever, when we said our good­byes at the dock, Mr. Gibbs reached into his pocket and handed me a small book­let of lessons he learned along the way in his life.

“Read this when you get home,” he told me.

One of those lessons dealt with the time he came home in 1979 and found his wife cry­ing. She’d been to a doc­tor and had a CAT scan that re­vealed a brain tu­mor. Two weeks later, she went in for surgery.

“Lit­tle did I know that I would come close to los­ing her on the op­er­at­ing ta­ble or that she would wind up with par­tial fa­cial paral­y­sis,” Mr. Gibbs writes. “Go­ing through some­thing like that with the per­son you love sure makes foot­ball games seem triv­ial. We have been com­forted in know­ing that God loved her and that, as promised in His Word, He would work all things to­gether for good for those who love Him.”

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