It was a stark image two days ago in Cincinnati, Ohio. A whole football team on their knees praying, surrounding a gravely injured teammate. A stadium of 60,000 fans silent, many most likely also in prayer for this 24 year old Buffalo Bills player named Damar Hamlin. He had experienced a cardiac arrest after tackling a player from the Cincinnati Bengals, and frantic efforts were made to resuscitate him on the field. After fifteen minutes of CPR and other care, an ambulance took Hamlin to a trauma facility. As of this writing, he is slowly recovering though still in critical condition. The game that night was postponed, and is still not rescheduled.
Watching this unfold on live television with millions of others in the US and globally was shocking and unprecedented, the first time since 1971 that a National Football League player had experienced a health event of such severity. As a violent sport, many are injured regularly, but to see an almost death event due to cardiac arrest was at a different level. Only one other time in history, in 1971 in Detroit, had a player actually died when tackled, later discovered to have had a pre-existing condition of heart disease.
As this new year of 2023 started, there are several things that came together for me as areas of focus with this event on Monday night in Cincinnati. They are also areas I want to grow in personally this year. Here are they are:
- Every single life is infinitely important, to God and should be to us. To see the whole sports world (and much beyond) stop what they were doing, including the holding of an ‘important’ game with playoff implications, for the concern and well-being of one 24 year old, was stunning. The game is still not rescheduled as of today while Hamlin slowly improves. According to the United Nations, on November 15, 2022 the global population hit 8 billion. Each of those 8 billion lives are made in God’s image, and infinitely precious and valuable. Recently in tiny ways I have been trying to imagine how each of those lives has their own history and important story. Much more work to do in that area for me! But this does lead directly to the next area of focus for me going into this new year…
- To see each human life as important and precious should lead me, and all of us, to treat all with kindness and respect. I have been trying to practice this for some time in my life in every encounter I have, whether in a store buying food, being in a restaurant for a meal, or towards anyone I meet. As 2022 ended, I posted on Facebook a photo I took of a sign last year that read, ‘above all things, be kind’. I do want to make a deeper commitment in my life this year to be kind, in how I drive, how I relate to others (including on social media), how I treat my family and friends.
- Another powerful thing for me starting this year, and coming from the shocking event in the football game this week, was the emphasis both verbally and in actual commitment to prayer. The photo I included with this blog post is of the Buffalo Bills whole team on their knees surrounding the fallen player as he received urgent and life saving care. From the commentators of the game voicing their desire to pray, to so many on social media, there was a nation-wide and beyond recognition of the need to care for Damar Hamlin that included praying. Of course many people perhaps never prayed, and were functioning from a cultural consensus or a ‘memory of God’ (though that in itself is telling in a positive way of where the United States is still at). But the next day, on a national sports program discussing the injury, one of the commentators said he did not want to only talk about praying, and immediately he bowed his head and proceeded to pray passionately for healing for Hamlin. As this year begins, I see signs of hope regarding the commitment to God in this land of the US, and refuse to join the ‘doomsayers’ who see mainly apostasy and cultural decline.
- One last thing I want to highlight going into this new year, and directly seen also in the tragic events of last Monday night, is the commitment of so many to generosity. Damar Hamlin at the age of 24 already had begun a life of giving back to his community. He had started a foundation that focused on providing for toys for underprivileged kids and other humanitarian efforts. In the days since his injury, over 7 million dollars has been donated to this foundation and more coming every day. This morning when he became conscious again, his mom shared with him the incredible outpouring of love and generosity from all over the nation and world. This is another area I want to personally grow in this year and the years ahead: a commitment to being generous in every way with my life, gifts, money, time, love.
The above four areas are simple yet when lived out provide such power both in our personal lives and in our nations. Here they are again 1) Seeing every person as infinitely valuable 2) Having a commitment to treat each person with kindness and respect 3) Developing and strengthening a commitment to regular prayer and 4) Living a life of generosity in every area to all we are in contact with.
It was a tragic evening Monday night. But as Damar Hamlin recovers, what amazing results have already happened in so many lives.
Welcome to 2023, and to many more surprises and life altering events ahead.