7. Billy Ward: Love & Be Loved
Have you ever experienced a really big coincidence? There are normal coincidences, like getting on the same bus as a friend or wearing the same outfit as someone else at work. Then there are the absolutely improbable ones. The ones that quite literally rely on the alignment of the stars, that seemingly rely on some "divine intervention".
On February 7, 2014, I was hit right in the face by one of these coincidences when Billy Ward got on stage at TEDxFoggyBottom. Billy, or Mr. Ward as I knew him, was my high school advisor. If there's one thing about him that struck me when I first met him, it was his warm spirit. Every time I sat down with him and was stressed about my grades or the academic year ahead, he effortlessly put me at ease. When my junior came around and the opportunity for me to attend the Kairos retreat he led popped up, I signed up immediately. See, that was where I first heard Mr. Ward's talk about Daniel Galorenzo.
Billy Ward, who was drafted by the Ravens, was cut from the NFL team a week before the start of the season. This led him to become a high school football coach and theology teacher. In his first year teaching, he met Daniel, a rambunctious kid who emanated a light that you could see through the glow of Billy's face when he tells the story. Daniel was like a disco ball, lighting up the room for his Seton Hall Prep classmates and wrestling teammates alike and he and Billy gravitated to one another.
While rolling up the wrestling mats, Daniel suffered an aortic aneurysm. He unexpected passed away the next morning on February 7, 2002. Billy's TEDx talk was exactly 12 years to the day of Daniel's death. The talk happened because, one day, before knowing the date of the event, I thought of Billy and TEDxFoggyBottom and reached out to the lead curator, my friend Brian Doyle, to suggest him. Billy didn't have any video speech samples, as far as I know, but it was something about him that led Brian to ask Billy to speak. Today, that talk, a talk originally given to only a handful of high school guys, has been viewed more than 1 million times on YouTube.
Something about Billy's message of "love and be loved" has resonated with the world. Little by little, Billy's message is getting through to people. Maybe it's the three expressions of light that can return us to love - the sun (providing unconditional warmth and energy), the lighthouse (guiding you home to your authentic self) and the disco ball (bringing fun-loving energy wherever they go). Maybe it's his own light shining through the screen. Maybe it's his freedom to be the toughest guy in the room by being the loving guy, and to encourage others to do the same. Maybe it's the coincidence, which Billy insists is no coincidence at all: "The date was February 7th, 2002. Exactly 12 years ago today. I don't think it's any coincidence that I'm here today with the opportunity to share Daniel's story with you."
None of the cards we're dealt in life are certain. However, from Billy, I've learned to make the most of my hand. I've learned to experience the world as a place of light and love rather than a place of darkness and hatred. Billy is changing the world with his love, even at the click of a button. Coincidence or not, his impact is undeniable and I'm glad Billy Ward is here to light up our world.