A Chance Encounter

I just heard the story that Carson Wentz, the talented second-year quarterback of the Eagles, was diagnosed with a torn ACL to his left knee and is out for the season. That inspired me to write about an interaction between two people, strangers to each other, which I was told last summer.

This is a story about two things: the first is the beauty of living in Delaware, a tiny state where “everybody knows everybody.” As an example, Randy and I own a home in a neighborhood where a former U.S. Senator lives half a block away, where our state representative lives across the street from us and where a former Vice President lives literally no more than one-quarter of a mile away from the entrance to our development. People from large states can’t comprehend what this intimacy sometimes brings to us. This story is an example.

This is a story about two things: the first is the beauty of living in Delaware, a tiny state where “everybody knows everybody.” More importantly, this is also a story about character, and what is revealed about one’s heart.

More importantly, this is also a story about character, and what is revealed about one’s heart. I’m of the mind that one’s character is revealed when we think no one else is looking. It was told to me late this summer by my daughter Ann,

My granddaughter Sawyer Chilton, age 20, underwent ACL surgery on Monday, August 21st. It put an end to a promising two-sport hockey and lacrosse college career for this beautiful young student-athlete.

She and her mother, daughter Ann, went to Walgreens to pick up a prescription in the Greenville shopping center six days post-surgery on Sunday, August 27th. They parked by the front door. As they returned to their car they noticed that a car had pulled into the parking space parallel to theirs on their passenger side.

Sawyer was hopping on two crutches and had a cast mid-thigh to ankle which immobilized her right knee and prevented it from bending. She couldn’t maneuver herself into her car with the other car parked as it was. Seeing her predicament, the unknown driver backed up out of the space, thereby permitting Sawyer to hop onto the parking pavement and then crab-walk into the back seat. Sitting with her back to the rear-driver side door, she was able to extend her legs across the seats without bending her knee. The stranger then pulled his car back into the parking space.

Ann rolled down her passenger side window and thanked him for his thoughtfulness. Alone, dressed in shorts and a Wilmington Country Club polo shirt, the gray-haired senior walked one step to their open window. He said to Sawyer, “I see your cast on one knee and multiple scars on the other. You look like an athlete.”

In response, Sawyer told him that she had torn her left knee ACL once in high school as a junior, then again two years later in a non-contact drill before the hockey season of her freshman year at college. The cast he saw on her right knee was because this past spring she had torn that one in another non-contact drill before lacrosse season of her sophomore season. She told him that as a consequence of these three tears she was no longer medically cleared to participate in college athletics. The worst part was that she missed her teammates, their camaraderie, being a part of their teams.

Quietly listening to her story, he empathized. Then he lauded her for her determination to come back from the second ACL injury as a freshman and, especially, the rigorous and grueling 18-month rehab process she went through, only to be struck down once again. He mentioned that he had tried to play football at the University of Delaware “back in the day” but really “wasn’t as good as he thought he was”, and talked of the life lessons sports teaches all its participants no matter how gifted or ungifted they might be.

After more than a few seconds of silence and looking reflectively into the distance, he then whispered that he had a granddaughter who had torn her Achilles heel and still another who had torn the meniscus in one of her knees. Ann said to me, “Dad, his voice was quiet as a leaf on a pond.”

Sawyer told him that she was attending Washington College in Chestertown Maryland where she would return to opening day classes as a junior the very next day. He mentioned that he knew that former F.D.I.C. Chairwoman Shelia Bair had recently been its president and revealed that he’d spoken there on several occasions.

As he turned to go he extended his hand through the open window, asking her name. In response, he said “Hi Sawyer, I’m Joe Biden. I wish you well in school. I know that your knee will get better soon. Stay strong.” Then he walked into Walgreens.

At this time of year, my wish is that each of us should make it a point to reach out to a stranger and to extend our helping hand with an open heart.

Only Ann and Sawyer knew what had just transpired. Ann told me the concern that he expressed in those five minutes for Sawyer’s well-being was palpable. And it lifted a young lady’s spirits just when they needed it most.

No one was looking that Sunday afternoon when Joe Biden took to the time to reach out and engage a stranger. But in that encounter, his character was surely revealed.

At this time of year, my wish is that each of us should make it a point to reach out to a stranger and to extend our helping hand with an open heart. Best wishes for a joyous holiday season.

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