Roy Exum: Kindness Is Undefeated

Friday, September 11, 2020 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

When I was a child, still wearing ‘short pants’, my parents introduced me to “Aesop’s Fables.” Reputedly, this is a collection of great wisdom from a slave in ancient Greece - I’m talking about a storyteller believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 564 BC. Wikipedia tells us the fables are “of diverse origins, the stories associated with his name have descended to modern times” until this very day and I have always wondered why they are not required reading in every school, particularly Harvard, Yale and other incubators of our modern-day kooks.

The fables each have a great message of learning, and ever since I have sought out modern-day fables - stories that I read and lend to me very practical lessons that illustrate how I can be a better person.

I just adore the greatness found in people where you might least expect it.

Several days ago, one of the websites I enjoy is inspiremore.com and it delivered a dazzling story I haven’t read in some years yet is an all-time favorite of mine. On a day where every item on my news sites is about angst, let’s pause so you can meet Wayne and Sally.

After reading it and pausing to bask in its warmth, I remembered a story of a similar kindness first written in the 1970s. Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant was hired as the football coach at the University of Alabama in 1958. Just a short time later he was on a recruiting trip in south Alabama when a mid-day hunger landed him at a most usual restaurant.

In the early 1970s, I was a wet-behind-the-ears kid – younger than many of his own players – and he took time to help me in an abundance of ways. I wrote a pile of stories about Coach Bryant and one was as a ghost-writer after I had accompanied him at a speaking engagement. “It Don’t Cost Nuthin’ To Be Nice” has since appeared in numerous publications, much to my delight.

Coach told me one afternoon “Kindness is Undefeated” and I hope you will realize, as you enjoy these two “fables,” you will be aware than any kindness you ever extend, never fails to go much further than you can ever imagine.

* * *

“RING … RING … INFORMATION PLEASE …”

Most of us (senior citizens!) will remember when phones were wired to the wall. They were typically in the kitchen or in the living area with a long, expandable cord.

There was once a young boy named Wayne who had one of these phones in his home. He was fascinated by the black, shiny object you could talk in and someone could talk back. One day, he discovered an amazing person named "Information Please." She could tell you the time, someone's phone number, and so much more!

"Information please" was like Wayne's own, personal genie-in-a-bottle. One day, Wayne's mom was out at a neighbor's and the little boy was playing with the toolbox when he whacked his finger with a hammer. With no one to turn to at home, he decided to call "Information Please."

"I hurt my finger!" he cried. "Information Please" was quick to respond with empathy and advised him to find some ice to relieve the pain. After that incident, "Information Please" was there for many more life moments. She helped with homework and offered up tips, tricks, and advice.

One day the little boy's pet canary died. He called "Information Please" and told her the sad news. She listened and comforted him. He then asked, "Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to so many people, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?"

She responded, "Wayne, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in." It made him feel better.

Another day, he called and asked how to spell "fix." When Wayne turned nine years old, his family moved from their small town in the Pacific Northwest to Boston. He missed his friend very much.

As Wayne grew up, he often thought of his calls with his friend. It brought a sense of security, understanding, and patience.

Years later, when Wayne was on his way back west for college, he found himself on a phone in the airport in Seattle with his sister. Without thinking, he dialed his hometown operator and said, "Information Please."

A familiar voice picked up. Wayne asked, "Could you please teach me how to spell 'fix?'"

There was a pause and the voice said, "I guess your finger must have healed by now."

Wayne laughed and said, "So it's really you! I wonder if you have any idea of how much you meant to me during that time."

She responded, "I wonder if you know how much your calls meant to me. I never had children of my own and used to look forward to your calls."

He asked if he could call again when he was back in that area. She, of course, said, "Please do. Just ask for Sally."

Three months later, Wayne was back in Seattle. He called, but this time a different voice answered. He asked for Sally. The voice asked if she was a friend, and he responded, "Yes, a very old friend." She was sorry to tell him that Sally had been working part time the past few years because she was sick. She had died a few weeks prior.

Before she hung up, she asked, "Wait, did you say your name was Wayne?" She told him Sally had left a message for him in case he called. The note said, "Tell him there are other worlds to sing in. He'll know what I mean."

He knew exactly what she meant.

You never know what type of impression you may make on others. Whose life have you touched, and who has touched yours? Let them know. (Send a handwritten note right now. Today.)

* * * * *

“IT DON’T COST NUTHIN’ TO BE NICE”

At an Alabama Touchdown Club meeting Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant told the following story:

“I had just been named the new head coach at Alabama and was off in my old car down in South Alabama recruiting a prospect who was supposed to have been a pretty good player and I was havin’ trouble finding the place. Getting hungry, I spied an old cinder block building with a small sign out front that simply said “Restaurant.”

I pull up, go in and every head in the place turns to stare at me. Seems I’m the only white fella in the place. But the food smelled good, so I skip a table and go up to a cement bar and sit. A big ole man in a tee shirt and cap comes over and says, “What do you need?” I told him I needed lunch and what did they have today?

He says, “You probably won’t like it here, today we’re having chitlins, collard greens and black-eyed peas with cornbread. I’ll bet you don’t even know what chitlins (small intestines of hogs prepared as food in the deep South) are, do you?”

I looked him square in the eye and said, “I’m from Arkansas, I’ve probably eaten a mile of them. Sounds like I’m in the right place.” They all smiled as he left to serve me up a big plate. When he comes back, he says, “You ain’t from around here then?”

I explain I’m the new football coach up in Tuscaloosa at the University and I’m here to find whatever that boy’s name was and he says, ‘Yeah I’ve heard of him, he’s supposed to be pretty good. And he gives me directions to the school so I can meet him and his coach.

As I’m paying up to leave, I remember my manners and leave a tip, not too big to be flashy, but a good one and he told me lunch was on him, but I told him for a lunch that good, I felt I should pay.

The big man asked me if I had a photograph or something he could hang up to show I’d been there. I was so new that I didn’t have any yet. It really wasn’t that big a thing back then to be asked for, but I took a napkin and wrote his name and address on it and told him I’d get him one.

I met the kid I was lookin’ for later that afternoon and I don’t remember his name, but do remember I didn’t think much of him when I met him. I had wasted a day, or so I thought.

When I got back to Tuscaloosa late that night, I took that napkin from my shirt pocket and put it under my keys so I wouldn’t forget it. Back then I was excited that anybody would want a picture of me. The next day we found a picture and I wrote on it, “Thanks for the best lunch I’ve ever had.”

Now, let’s go a whole bunch of years down the road. Now we have black players at Alabama and I’m back down in that part of the country scouting an offensive lineman we sure needed. Y’all remember, (and I forget the name, but it’s not important to the story), well anyway, he’s got two friends going to Auburn and he tells me he’s got his heart set on Auburn, too, so I leave empty-handed and go on see some others while I’m down there.

Two days later, I’m in my office in Tuscaloosa and the phone rings and it’s this kid who just turned me down, and he says, “Coach, do you still want me at Alabama?” And I said, “Yes I sure do.” And he says OK, he’ll come. And I say, “Well son, what changed your mind?”

And he said, “When my grandpa found out that I had a chance to play for you and said no, he pitched a fit and told me I wasn’t going nowhere but Alabama, and wasn’t playing for nobody but you. He thinks a lot of you and has ever since y’all met.”

Well, I didn’t know his granddad from Adam’s housecat so I asked him who his granddaddy was and he said, “You probably don’t remember him, but you ate in his restaurant your first year at Alabama and you sent him a picture that he’s had hung in that place ever since. That picture’s his pride and joy and he still tells everybody about the day that Bear Bryant came in and had chitlins with him.”

“My grandpa said that when you left there, he never expected you to remember him or to send him that picture, but you kept your word to him and, to Grandpa, that’s everything. He said you could teach me more than football and I had to play for a man like you, so I guess I’m going to.”

I was floored. But I learned that the lessons my mama taught me were always right. It don’t cost nuthin’ to be nice. It don’t cost nuthin’ to do the right thing most of the time, and it costs a lot to lose your good name by breakin’ your word to someone.

When I went back to sign that boy, I looked up his Grandpa and he’s still running that place, but it looks a lot better now; and he didn’t have chitlins that day, but he had some ribs that woulda’ made Dreamland proud and I made sure I posed for a lot of pictures; and don’t think I didn’t leave some new ones for him, too, along with a signed football.

I made it clear to all my assistants to keep this story and these lessons in mind when they’re out on the road. If you remember anything else from me, remember this. It really doesn’t cost anything to be nice, and the rewards can be unimaginable.

~ Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant ~

* * *

Sandy Pophal, my pal in Dallas, used this story and commented, “Coach Bryant was in the presence of these few gentlemen for only minutes, and he defined himself for life. Regardless of our profession, we do define ourselves by how we treat others, and how we behave in the presence of others, and most of the time, we have only minutes or seconds to leave a lasting impression.

“We can be rude, crude, arrogant, cantankerous, or we can be nice. Nice is always a better choice. I like what Stephen Grellet, French/American religious leader (1773-1855) said, “I expect to pass through the world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness I can show to any creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

* * *

Kindness is undefeated. Oh, is it ever.

royexum@aol.com


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