Not long ago while in Oklahoma City for a family visit, my parents, siblings, and I dropped into a downtown pizza parlor for a bite to eat after walking a couple of miles for a cure to end Alzheimer’s. In our matching shirts, we devoured the pizza as a mini-bus dropped off the University of Oklahoma women’s basketball team. With open eyes, I watched and admired the athletic, self-assured young women from my esteemed alma mater, first finding the ladies room and then a table next to ours. I observed their comradery from the corner of my eye, watching but making a conscious effort not to stare. During one moment I considered snapping a sneaky selfie with the team in the background, and in another moment, I contemplated just asking for a photo. Except with no more pizza on our table and the bill paid, my family, who all attended OSU, stood and headed toward the exit. My excitement outmatched theirs, but I followed my people and left my team, my thoughts, and my opportunity behind.
Then and there at the front door stood Sherri Coale, OU icon and head coach since 1996. Her record and growth of the women’s basketball program speak for itself and have landed her a spot in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. As if an aura surrounded her, the rays of sunshine from the western sky framed her silhouette in the doorway. She stepped back and out of my family’s way, held the door for us to pass, and noticed our matching purple shirts with stark white lettering of the emblazoned message, TOGETHER, WE CAN WALK TO END ALZHEIMER’S. Coach Coale looked me in the eyes, gestured to my shirt, and said, “Thank you for doing that. That’s awesome.”
Somewhat star-struck and at a loss for words, I smiled and nodded and took a few reluctant steps down the sidewalk before I grabbed my brother Scott’s arm and said, “I have to go back for a picture.” Then I told the family, “I’ll catch up,” and Scott followed me back inside the pizzeria.
I found Coach Coale sitting with her team and perusing the menu. Not wanting to interrupt, I found a chair nearby and sat nonchalantly as if I weren’t a stalker. When she looked up from the menu, I stood and asked, “Would you mind taking a photo with me?”
“Of course, not,” she said with a smile, and I handed off my phone to Scott for the shot.
Another coach stood and said to my brother, ”I can take it, and you can be in the picture, too.”
Scott, also known as Pistol Pete during his days at Oklahoma State, politely declined, exchanged inside-joke-eyes and an ironic smirk with me, and stood firm in his role as official photographer.
Coach Coale and I squeezed together linked by more than our arms. The University of Oklahoma, feminine strength, our professions, and a calling for mentoring young people to be their best selves linked me to Sherri Coale that day. That’s how I felt, anyway. I said to Scott, “Do you have the team in the background?
Still huddled on the sidelines in our side hug, Coach Coale turned to me and said, “Oh, you want the team?” With my nod, her head swiveled to the team and said, “Lean in ladies.”
Scott snapped the shot. I looked back at Coach Coale and said, “Thank you so much. This means more than you know.” I gave the team a little wave and walked away with a really great photo. Look at them–all smiling. In retrospect, I wish I would’ve added another sentence or two to my brief encounter with Coach Coale, something along the line of, I just drove in from Houston, where I’ve been living in a hotel since Hurricane Harvey, and I’m so grateful for moments of kindness like this. You inspire me, and I love OU Women’s Basketball. Or maybe something like this, I teach high school English, and I love seeing how your team treats each other like family. I know that doesn’t happen overnight.
For the past ten years, I’ve worked on my relationship with God while practicing faith and gratitude. In the gospel of Matthew 7:7, Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” So I seek and find inspiration through my relationships with God and family and friends, and through the stories in books and music, art and the internet. I work to let go of the crappy moments and choose to ask God for peace. He says, “It will be given,” and I feel that peace beyond understanding when I need it most. I seek positivity and inspiration, and over and over that’s what I find in my life. And even though I’m working on asking and knocking, I’m finding many doors opening for me. I believe the best is yet to come.
Looking for inspiration? Let me recommend a book or five:
- Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
- Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior
- Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun
- Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent
- Kathryn Stockett’s The Help