by Joanie Butman
Recent coverage about the “Fab Five” Olympic gymnasts brought back fond memories. Years ago Fab Five was a name given to a small group of women with whom I spent many years on the sidelines.
When my children were in elementary school, there was a beloved playground monitor named Jack Caddell. Both my son and daughter were fortunate enough to also have him as a soccer coach, a role which earned him a certain notoriety in our community. He would arrive at every practice with a trunkful of forbidden fruit: candy and soda. No one else would have gotten away with that kind of nutritional faux pas, but even the most uptight, overprotective moms didn’t have the heart to chastise him. I don’t know where he found the energy to mentor these kids. He was 80 at the time and, last I heard, he is still active. I can still hear his mantra “Shoot for the far post!” called from the sidelines in his singsong Scottish brogue.
Some of the moms of our ragtag soccer team became so close to this dear man, he was adopted as an additional grandparent to our children. Then, somewhere towards the end of our tenure together, his wife developed cancer. We did what any friends would do. We provided meals, comfort items, TLC. No one thought twice about it. So we were surprised to discover ourselves mentioned in his retirement speech published in the local paper a couple of years later. It was there that he christened us the Fab Five as he expressed his heartfelt thanks for our efforts on his wife’s behalf and listed each of us by name. So sweet – just like him.
We didn’t do anything extraordinary. We didn’t have a life-time of training. We weren’t particularly talented. You would definitely not want to see any of our Fab Five in a leotard. In fact, there wasn’t anything special about us at all except maybe the soft spot we all shared for Mr. C. He was the special one. We simply chose to offer a helping hand during a difficult time. For that small act of kindness he bestowed on us his own gold medal of appreciation. In his eyes, the “Fab Five” were Olympians of a sort. That’s the mystery of serving others. You always get back more than you give. It is a reward unto itself.
Our “performance” wasn’t newsworthy. People do it every day – which is exactly my point. I’ve witnessed ordinary people performing with extraordinary grace and excellence in the most quiet of ways that go unnoticed for the most part, but it doesn’t make them any less valuable. They may not be worthy of a medal, but those small acts of kindness add meaning to our days and sweetness to our life.
I’ve been on the receiving end more than the giving end of this equation, and I can attest to the power those small gestures hold. It is a reminder that you are not forgotten in your pain which can be isolating.
We can’t all be blessed with the abilities of an Olympic athlete. However, there is one ability we can all choose: availability, which comes with its own rewards.
I write this in honor of Jack Caddell who deserves a life-time achievement award for his dedication to the youth of New Canaan. While he was an accomplished athlete here and abroad for many years, he claims it was his 16 years as a volunteer soccer coach that gave him the most satisfaction.
P.S. As I finished this essay, I felt bad I hadn’t kept up with Jack except for the annual Christmas card. Feeling nostalgic, I paid a surprise visit this morning while on an errand with my daughter. She was appalled I would just ring his bell unannounced; but somehow, I knew he wouldn’t be bothered by my breach of etiquette. As I anticipated, he was delighted. He is now 88 and not as robust as he once was but with a heart as big as ever. We had a lovely visit, and I promised to bring the remaining two members of his Fab Five by next week. Claiming we were some of his favorites, he told me he still prays for each of us every night. I told you he was special.