Awaiting Destiny’s Test

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November 12, 2011

For decades a thought arrived often and too pushy to ignore: I had a purpose in life not of my choosing. Without warning I would have an instant to save a stranger’s life. The chance was destiny. Imagined scenarios would flash past, chief among them rescuing a drowning child. Maybe the idea emerged from a childhood immersed in water and lost in the fictional worlds of Tarzan, Tom Swift, and The Hardy Boys.

In adulthood this destiny became an unplayed ace-in-the-hole to erase disappointments and atone for mistakes. Until this week the idea had vanished, a victim of age perhaps. But the shocking news at Penn State left me wondering whether nothing has changed, and I need to be ready. I don’t want to fail like assistant football coach Mike McQueary, who stumbled upon the rape of a prepubescent boy in the locker room showers in 2002. He has been vilified for not stopping the alleged rapist, the team’s former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky. Instead McQueary testified that he hurried away and contacted his father, who advised him to inform head coach Joe Paterno. McQueary did so but the police were never told, and Sandusky went on to sexually abuse other boys for as many as seven years, according to a grand jury report.

I’ve tried to imagine McQueary, a former Penn State quarterback, looking back at that horrifying moment and reacting as he did. Has a day or even an hour passed in which he hasn’t agonized over a mistake that led to so much suffering? What McQueary failed to do brands him forever and blots out qualities that earned him admiration from players he has coached. For better or worse, we’re all like McQueary was just before he saw a terrible crime in progress, candidates awaiting a test, a test that will change everything.