Over the past few weeks, Americans were often thrilled and sometimes even moved by the NCAA basketball championship, known as "March Madness." I also watched some thrilling and moving basketball in March. While the guys I watched will never play in the NBA, they are even more special.
A few weeks ago, I visited my daughter, Emily, and my grandson, Max, in Boston. As I have previously told "BreakPoint" listeners and readers, Max is autistic.
He is a great kid, and Emily has done a fantastic job raising him. While there are burdens, there can also be sources of great blessing—as the parent of any child with special needs will tell you.
That's because Max and his peers have a way of teaching us what is truly important. They matter, not because of what they can do—much less do for us—but because of the fact they are. And that truth can transform even the bleakest of surroundings.
I saw this when I recently watched Max play in a basketball game for kids with special needs. The gymnasium was a big, beige cube with tiny slits serving as windows, attached to a string of older, one-story buildings. It was architecturally drab, to say the least.
None of that mattered once the players took the court. None of these kids will ever play for the Florida Gators—the best way to describe the quality of play is well-organized confusion. Yet their enthusiasm easily matched anything on display during "March Madness."
Just as inspiring were the volunteers and the parents. Their devotion to these kids lit up that dingy space: If a kid needed to be carried, they carried him; if he needed his hands to be directed toward the basket, that's what they did. One middle-aged mother, always smiling, literally kept her hand on her twenty-something’s collar to brace him to stand. They did whatever it took to affirm the dignity and worth of theses kids who, in turn, were clearly grateful for the affirmation.
Sitting on a chair in that gymnasium, I watched two destructive myths being shattered.
The first was Darwin's "survival of the fittest." According to Darwin, natural selection would "rigidly destroy" any variation that would hurt its possessor "in the struggle for life." If any "variations" should qualify for such "rigid destruction," it would be those disabilities on display on the court. Yet, they are still here. They were not selected out. Why not? Because of something that natural selection can't account for: human kindness and altruism.
Which leads me to the other myth being destroyed: the selfish individualism that dominates our contemporary culture. We live in an age in which the individual's desires and needs reign supreme.