I shouldn’t be writing about Campbell Dale. I shouldn’t even know who he is. A five year old closing in on his sixth birthday next month, Campbell should be in a kindergarten class right now, smiling, napping and learning how to add small numbers.
But yesterday, instead of sitting at tables in tiny plastic chairs with people his own age and size, Campbell was surrounded by giants. The biggest, toughest men in the world are selected to play basketball, baseball and football in the SEC, and Campbell flew to Mississippi State to meet them.
“We’ve been looking forward to seeing you,” basketball coach Ben Howland told him as he arrived, a dozen of the tallest men Campbell had ever seen standing behind him.
In February of last year, four-year-old Campbell was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer affecting the body tissue called Rhabdomyosarcoma. Treatment began immediately and has continued over the 18 months since. What time he has now is uncertain and the reports lately have worsened, though his family prays every day for a miracle.
For now, their goal is to make the life he has the best life possible, to fill his remaining days with a full lifetime of experiences.
Campbell may not get to play football for his high school team, but on Tuesday he got to run onto the field at Davis Wade Stadium. He stood on the court with the world’s tallest men, basketball’s stars of today and tomorrow. He watched from the dugout as men with hard helmets and heavy arms swung their bats and launched baseballs hundreds of feet into the air, higher and farther than any five-year-old could dream of hitting.
Maybe his favorite moment, though, was the unplanned one. Dak Prescott, bearer of the same No. 15 jersey as the miniature version Campbell wore, walked him into Dan Mullen’s office. MSU’s football coach welcomed Campbell and his family in, chatted with brother and sister, mother and father.
Mullen has a football season starting next week and probably more things he could be doing, but something in the moment caught him. Maybe it’s because he’s a dad, too, and has kids around the same age as Campbell and his twin sister Avery, that Mullen noticed how tired Campbell was, now on his third stop of the day, and knew exactly what he needed.
Mullen grabbed the remote from his desk, turned his massive HD television on and popped it onto the Disney Channel. He pulled up two comfy chairs right in front of the TV, helping Campbell into one and Avery into the other.
“Sit here as long as you like,” he told them. “Dak needs to learn about Doc McStuffins.”
As much as the day meant to Campbell, the moments meant even more to those lucky enough to meet him. Big and tough as Prescott may appear, the 230-pound quarterback thought Campbell to be the strongest person he’d seen in a building full of the strongest people in town.
We’re told life isn’t fair, but some days make that truth more obvious than others.
I shouldn’t know the names Alison Parker and Adam Ward, either. Not yet, at least, not until they caught their big breaks, made it to a network job or had some career milestone bringing attention and congratulation. But today it’s their names we’ve read, heard and honored after their lives were shockingly ended while they were simply doing their job as reporters.
In a perfect world these would be isolated tragedies, but their stories are only a few of far too many like them. Things like cancer and death are evil; things impossible to consider necessary no matter how we try to rationalize them. We all should get our chance at life and it feels horribly unfair when good people have their opportunity cut short or taken away.
It’s a law of reason that nothing can exist without having an equal opposite. Without dark, there can be no light. The idea of strength must also allow for the idea of weakness. So too does life necessitate death and happiness have an opposite in sadness.
But that’s the silver lining to life. For as terrible a tragedy as may occur, the limits of our grief are matched by our capacity for joy. Everything taken from us is an opportunity to give. Every day, moment and breath are chances to be alive, to be happy ourselves and make others happy, too. All the hate in the world demands love to match it and any person’s life we can enrich makes our own worth living.
And that’s why sports are important. It doesn’t matter who wins or loses a game. Sure, it’s nice when your team wins, though that of course means someone else’s team lost. But sport offers a getaway, a chance for happiness and something to belong to. It’s one of many somethings in the world that can be something to us.
What meeting Prescott meant to Campbell, and what meeting Campbell meant to Prescott, has nothing to do with MSU winning the first game last year and was completely unaffected by them losing the last game. That Malik Newman will likely be in the NBA this time next August is inconsequential to Campbell, but when Newman gave him a smile and a t-shirt, it brightened a day that had every reason to be dark.
We should all be so lucky to touch as many lives as Campbell has. His parents, Mullen and Prescott behind him and his sister in the seat beside him, Campbell quietly sat in Mullen’s big chair watching the Disney Channel and clutching the new football signed by his new friends, no clue how special he was or how much he meant to those surrounding him.
His plan was to be a Bulldog for a day, but Campbell was already a Bulldog for life.
Up next: Disney World, the happiest place on Earth.