By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
This is personal. And yet, it is as much for you as me.
A few Saturdays ago was the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four. I was in Gary for a statewide church convention. A childhood friend, Daryl McCullough, invited me to watch the game at the home of a mutual friend, Lanel Chambers.
As tempting as the offer WAS—particularly since Lanel and I hadn’t gotten together to talk for so long—I had to decline. After all, the games were played late in the afternoon and ON INTO that night. I had a long drive back to Indianapolis to be at church for my role in the 8 o’clock Sunday morning service television-streaming ministry.
So I left Gary vying to make that boring 2 ½ hour drive in record time (without getting a ticket).
But as I crossed the I-94 to Chicago overpass, a peculiar thing happened.
“Something” told me to exit on Ridge Road to AT LEAST say “hello” to Lanel, since I couldn’t stay for the game. What was the rush? I drove the same route from Gary every time, but had never had a similar urge. So I followed it even though the stop was unplanned, I hadn’t called, and wasn’t even sure if Lanel was working.
After pulling into the place where I once worked as station manager at Gary Community School Corporation’s radio station WGVE, I saw Lanel’s familiar SUV.
Entering the building with air personality Ayanna Brown Campbell – Lanel was stunned as I unexpectedly entered the studio just as he was ending his program. Ayanna took over and we went across the hall to his office.
What was intended to be a five- or ten-minute pit stop turned into nearly two hours of spirited dialogue and camaraderie. The exchange became so animated, the laughter so loud, that Ayanna came across the hall to close the door. Unbridled reminiscences flowed.
We didn’t waste time talking about Kobe’s retirement or Trump’s stupidity or the economy or state of the city. We reflected on childhood memories, the tight circle of friends. How we remained close over so many years and how much we appreciate each other.
We called friends by name, and spoke of what each brought to the group – the roles they played, humorous anecdotes. Lanel was always the storyteller, the color commentator. I always marveled at how he could recall with such detail accounts of our adventures.
Our talk was far more than I ever expected. It was far more meaningful than I could have known. A week later to the day, Daryl called to tell me Lanel was in a terrible accident.
Though shaken, we were confident that the prognosis was good, that Lanel would recover. In spite of a flood of prayer, in his infinite wisdom, God decided it was time for our brother to come home. Four days after the accident, Lanel was gone. Shocked and deeply saddened, my sustaining refuge was how the Holy Spirit led me from the highway to the radio station for that final epic conversation.
The encounter took on even greater meaning when mutual friend John Fauntleroy told me that during the games, usually-stoic Lanel was just as excited about our lengthy conversation.
The moral of this story is simple. Take time out of your busy schedule to embrace those people who have meaning in your life at every opportunity. Express yourself and let them know how you feel about them, while they can still hear and appreciate it. If the Lord suddenly moves you in their direction—don’t resist; no matter how inexplicable or impulsive, just do it. That’s God trying to tell you something.
Lanel Chambers is the first from our tightest circle of friends to transcend. He was my ‘best man’ when I got married. We hooped at Roosevelt’s outdoor B-ball courts and at homes of friends, we played softball at Ernie Pyle, double dated, coached Midtown senior league baseball and on and on. The only thing he enjoyed more than sports was the blues. And those blue light-in-the-basement parties at his parent’s west side home were legendary.
It wasn’t all fun and games. Lanel and I started the high school ethnic pride teen group Club Black Action; spearheaded the community service organization, PACT; founded the Lake County Association of Black Communicators; produced the Miss Gary Scholarship Pageant together, and launched weekend gospel broadcasting at WGVE.
When trouble came into our lives individually, we shared the burden – like brothers.
Struggling between the sadness of his untimely departure and the warmth in reflections of his wonderful life, I choose the latter.
On his approach to the hereafter, the Lord will greet Lanel Roosevelt Chambers saying:
“Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of the Lord.” – Matthew 25-23.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City.
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