It was about a month ago that the basketball standout Kobe Bryant died in that tragic helicopter crash. I knew the name, and was aware that he was a good player, but didn’t know much else about him. I learned quickly.
Every network and cable news channel featured his death as breaking news, and the catastrophic crash made the front pages of all the newspapers. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Bryant was a spectacular player for the Los Angeles Lakers. But he was also so much more.
Teammates and opponents grieved his death, and heaped praise and respect on his memory. He was not only one of the outstanding players of all time, he was a loving father and a beloved husband. He was a man whose stellar character shone well beyond the basketball circle.
Not long after Bryant’s death, the passing of another famous person also hit the headlines. This person was a longtime movie star, Kirk Douglas, who died at the age of 103. We knew him as one of a collection of movie idols who brightened our lives during the mid to late 20th century. Like Kobe Bryant, I knew who he was, but didn’t know much about him.
As I watched and read the news reports following their deaths, it appeared that they both were cut from the same cloth. Each of them was talented and successful, and had accumulated substantial fortunes. And while both had probably lived comfortably, they reached out in quiet, caring ways to touch the lives of many needy individuals.
Bryant worked with several youth athletic programs, and mentored countless kids who, like his own daughter, grew to become winners themselves. But he reached beneath the surface, and learned about the young people, and their lives beyond the sports arena. He demonstrated quiet compassion for those who had medical challenges, and contributed to their expenses. He spent time getting to know these children, and frequently provided resources to help them reach their dreams.
Douglas became a world traveler in the midst of his movie career, and was moved by the poverty that he discovered in Third World countries. Without fanfare he would finance the development of wells to provide water to villages that had none. He would contribute to hospitals and clinics in places that had no medical services. He did what he could to make the world a better place. It wasn’t until after his death that most of us learned that he was stronger in these acts of compassion than he was in his starring role as Spartacus.
I want to believe that in our contentious 21st century culture there are a goodly number of Kobe Bryants and Kirk Douglases who are quietly and compassionately using their fortunes to help change the world. We know of athletes and TV personalities and Silicon Valley billionaires who have accumulated unbelievable treasures, and we can hope that they are doing something besides buying $10 million yachts and personal jet planes.
How about it, politicians? Why not build your platforms on planks of compassion and caring? Spread these qualities around, and it may surprise all of us how this helps make America great again.
Harry Bronkar is a retired Baptist minister living in Seven Lakes. Contact him at hbronkar @gmail.com.