June 26, 2019

Be a person for others to lean on

Admittedly, I am not what you would call a “sports enthusiast.” Although I loved playing basketball in high school, I rarely follow sports statistics and never purposefully schedule time to watch events on television. That being said, my husband introduced me to the stories of Leroy Sutton and Dartanyon Crockett, and I found myself inspired and moved by two athletes who carry each other through life’s ups and downs.

ESPN profiled the journey of these two men. When Leroy was 11 years old, he walked home on train tracks. Seeing a freight train in the near distance, he attempted to jump into the clear, but his backpack was caught and Leroy was pulled underneath the oncoming train. Paramedics saved his life but his body was severely compromised — both legs amputated. 

Refusing to be “stuck in his chair,” Sutton built up arm muscles and found himself before the wrestling coach. The coach challenged Sutton: “You’ve been hit by a train. What else, what kid, what wrestler, what can stop you?”  

His wrestling partner was Dartanyon:  5 feet, 7 inches and legally blind. 

The two bonded immediately. They went everywhere together — classes, team bus rides, each other’s homes. 

The wrestling coach commented, “One day I’m coming out of my office; I look over to the corner of the gym where the mats were at, and right up the steps I see Dartanyon with something on his back, and the closer I get, I’m like, ‘Is that Leroy?’ And it was Leroy on his back. Dartanyon’s carrying him.”

Their friendship grew stronger and they found themselves together on graduation night. “My goal is to actually walk across the stage,” Leroy said. 

When his name was called, Dartanyon stood right beside him. He helped Leroy stand upon new prosthetic legs and moved alongside him. 

“As long as I can remember,” Dartanyon said, “I’ve been carrying him from point A to B to C. Graduation was the first time I finally got to walk beside him. It was a privilege. It was an honor.”

Leroy added, “It meant so much to me to know I have a friend who was there to catch me if I stumbled.” 

And as you can imagine, with these two holding each other, there was no stumble. 

In Parashat Noach, we are reminded of the power we transmit and the meaning we receive when we “carry” someone during a particularly difficult time. In Noah’s lifetime, human beings are described as corrupt and unruly, infiltrated with tricksters and rogues. But according to Genesis 6:9, “Noah walked with God,” meaning, God saw potential in Noah. Not a perfect being. Not even close. But he was worth saving, worth carrying.

Midrash Rabbah compares God walking with Noah with the following parable: Rabbi Nehemiah said, “He (Noah) might be compared to a king’s friend who was plunging about in dark alleys, and when the king looked out and saw him sinking (in the mud), he said to him, ‘Instead of plunging about in dark alleys, come and walk with me.’ ” 

In other words, God saw Noah sinking with the dirge of humanity, but instead of letting him drown, God saved him by merely walking by his side. Often, just letting someone else know that they are worth standing by is all the confidence they need to tread another day. 

Menachem Mendel of Rimanov said, “Human beings are God’s language.” When we see someone we love fighting to stay afloat, our hand in theirs provides an opportunity for God’s goodness to push them back toward the surface. Be it illness, financial crisis, break in relationship or death in the family, it is our responsibility to let our loved ones know that we stand with them; they are not alone.

Masechet Megillah asks the question, “Why should a blind man care whether it is dark or light outside?” The Talmud answers with the following story: A rabbi was once walking on a pitch-black night when he saw a blind man walking in the road with a torch in his hand. The rabbi said to him, “My son, why do you carry this torch?” He replied, “As long as I have this torch in my hand, people see me and save me from the holes and thorns and briars.” 

The blind man holds a light before him, not so that he can see the road, but to ensure that others see him. How sad if we are in constant need of the “struggling” to remind us to walk by their side and see their pain.

Leroy and Dartanyon didn’t pity each other. They knew they were stronger together.

Let us walk, ready to catch someone lest they fall. And when we stumble — as we all do — it just may be that very person who catches us, too.


Nicole Guzik is a rabbi at Sinai Temple.