Announcers would point to Buckeye and Celtic great John Havlicek “moving without the ball.” It was, they noted, what he did when eyes were elsewhere that set him apart.

I was reminded of this just Saturday when I bumped into cousin Donnie. Though our paths rarely cross, it was something he did, something extra years ago that—to this day—stands out.

Michigan State University–summer of ’67. Stratospheric SAT’s hadn’t trumped C+ grades and, as such, one week after high school, I was in college. No passing Go, no two hundred dollars…College.

Weekdays weren’t bad. Living in a four-man suite, friends I had. Still, come Fridays, they’d head home—evaporate–and I’d be mired in East Lansing. No cards, no air conditioning….it got lonely. (How many times, really, could I play “Sgt. Pepper?”) Stuart and Bob came up once, of course….but….

I was sitting in—where else—the dorm room one Saturday when the phone rang. It was Donnie.

“Pinky and I are driving through. Want lunch?”

Imagine that! En route cross-country…who would have known had they not stopped—not called me?

We met that day, at the Student Union. In a booth I still picture, sharing maybe 45 minutes, they made my day. Nothing profound, nothing major. Still, forty-four years later, this simple act of unnecessary, unexpected kindness, perhaps long-forgotten by them, comes to mind whenever we meet.

Years later it was Michael on the road. Commencement on Friday. New York on Saturday. His idea.

I don’t know what he’d have done but for Aunt Rosie. My son had drive, kishkes and may have gone anyway. Even immediately, without passing Go. Destined for the Big City, whatever…Still, just as I recall his ambition, I too remember the kindness of our not-young aunt.

No one would have blinked had she acquiesced. Uncle Fred was failing, gravely ill. No one would have thought twice had she not said “Michael…please…stay here.”

Ten years ago this week my boy saw what family, what inclusion are all about…even in trying circumstance. Dropping him off, on the day I said good bye to Uncle Fred, I said hello, as well, to the cherished lesson of Aunt Rose: we open doors—we don’t close them.

It’s what I’m doing away from the ball that really matters. Like Cousin Donnie, and Aunt Rosie…and Grandpa Stuart.

Great Neck, New York: just last winter. Max, at a month, was surrounded by his father, two granddads and a sea of what seemed like forty-three women… And, (if you’ll excuse the analogy), they were passing that baby around not unlike rabbis pass the Torah High Holidays. Everyone wanted a piece.

Don’t know if others noticed. I did. Stuart Miller held back. With words unspoken, knowing well the limit to my time out east, he made sure I held that boy…and held that boy…and held that boy. With no one watching, when no one would have known…this cowboy saw. Quietly, without fanfare, Stuart maximized my finite hours with his infinite love.

It’s what we do away from the ball that counts.

I get through the melancholy of a week like this…what with the show ending, the kids away, Father’s Day, et cetera, by remembering, with gratitude, all the Donnie’s, Rosie’s and Stuart’s in my life, and all the kindnesses bestowed upon me.

I have a lot to be thankful for.


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