Unless you’ve been living under a rock or been tied to the steering wheel of the mini-van, shuttling kids to music, soccer, birthday parties or wherever, you no doubt have heard the story of Ted Williams.
He’s the homeless guy with the voice of an angel. A scant 48 hours ago, he was living on the street in Columbus, Ohio, not really sure where his next meal was going to come from. Then a journalist, who saw him begging with a sign touting his God-given gift of a voice, made a video of him. Thanks to YouTube, it went viral and suddenly Williams was being inundated with job offers as a newly minted media star. Two days ago, he was just another homeless guy with a sign; today his dulcet tones opened the Today show. Later, he gave an emotional interview to Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera.
It was time to take the kids to school but I couldn’t move, instead I stood in the kitchen, transfixed, with tears in my eyes, by this man and his story. It was one of those moments you want so badly for your kids to absorb. So in the car we talked about Ted Williams and as I thought more about him, I came up with a few lessons we can all teach our kids about his experience.
*DRUGS AND ALCOHOL CAN RUIN YOUR LIFE: In the interview with Matt and Meredith, Williams admitted he had always had a drinking problem but that he always managed to make it to work. He was, by his own admission, a functioning alcoholic. But things really went south for him when he started snorting cocaine and later, smoking crack. Watching him was the most jarring sort of anti-drug message. You can have kids read about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, have them chant “Just Say No” but there’s nothing more powerful than a living, breathing example of a life gone wrong because of them. Casey and Cole were staring at the TV just as I was as Williams spoke. I think they got it.
*BE GRACIOUS AND HUMBLE AT ALL TIMES: If you watch the YouTube video of Williams talking to that Columbus Dispatch reporter, he is gentle, kind and gracious. He called the man, “sir” several times. Even when he was hanging on to the last rung of society’s ladder, he was still gracious. And you need only watch the interview on the Today show to see how humble Ted is. He talked about his early career and how he didn’t really appreciate what he had and from whom it came. He credited his faith in God for getting him through. The line that stuck out to me was when he talked about how, for years, he was putting fire down his throat, yet God never took away his voice. Moving stuff.
*DON’T JUDGE: Another nugget spilled right from Williams own lips this morning, don’t judge a book by its cover. Yet, how many of us are guilty of doing that ourselves, even though we tell our kids not to? I am not proud to admit I have. How different this story would be if that newspaper reporter sat with his eyes fixed forward and hands clenched tightly around the steering wheel as he pulled up to the corner Williams occupied. But he didn’t. He saw Williams’ sign and took a chance. He reached out and spoke to the man in a conversation that will undoubtedly changed the lives of both men.
THE POWER OF PERSEVERANCE: Ted Williams lost his home in 1993. 1993! He had been living on the street and in shelters for 17 years. This morning he said to Matt and Meredith that he thought 2010 might be the year that he got off the street. As he told the story, you could tell that, even though it looked like it wouldn’t happen in 2010, there was a part of him that remained hopeful one day he would have a permanent place to call home. When we go through tough times, it’s hard to remember that they don’t last forever, nothing ever does. But when we’re mired in the muck of disappointment it’s hard to keep moving forward, to keep it all in perspective. Williams never gave up and he used the only tool he still had left in his arsenal, his voice. Looks as if that will be the one to save him.
I’m still in awe of this man who hung on by his fingernails through a hell that many of us can only imagine and I have thought about him a lot today. Now it turns out he has a job! The man with the golden voice has been hired by MSNBC to do voiceovers, truly amazing. Williams says he’s been clean and sober for two years now and my hope and prayer is that all this doesn’t prove to be too much too soon for a guy who’s lived on the fringes of society for so long.
What do you think of Ted Williams and what lessons would you want your kids to take away from his story? What did you learn yourself? This a great teaching moment for us all…