My readers and followers, though few in numbers, will likely remember one of my early major works back in October of 2012 when I profiled Normand Léveillé, a former Boston Bruins first-round draft pick who had his hockey career ended at age 19 by a brain aneurysm triggered by an undiagnosed congenital defect, and after his life-saving surgery went on to help the physically disabled similar to himself (read here: https://lavioletteism.wordpress.com/2012/10/27/player-profile-2-normand-norm-leveille-montreal-quebec/ ). About a year later, I decided it was time to get a conversation going and inform Normand what I thought of his courage and selflessness, so I wrote a letter to the address of his center in Drummondville, Quebec. I tried my best to express the sentiments and respect that I held, and I shall let the reader be the judge of that by reading the following:
Composed on September 9, 2013
Bonjour. Allow me to introduce myself – My name is Liam Atkinson. I am a first-year student at the University of Maine, originally hailing from the town of Methuen, Massachusetts, about 30 miles north of where you played your meaningful career in professional ice hockey. I became familiar with your story roughly two years ago and I am a great admirer of yours, and I just want you to know that there are still young people in North America today that find you inspirational. I can only describe the way that you have touched so many less fortunate people’s lives in the past 18 years at your fine institution and did it all without once drawing attention to yourself and your own physical state as noble. The way that you’ve continued to live a meaningful life despite your own personal tragedy should serve as a standard of character for all others to follow.
I participated in a pick-up game several months ago with your former teammate, Rick Middleton, and upon asking about his memories of you he had only the best things to say about you both as a hockey player and a person. He and I both agreed that your career was far too short, but also stated that your unselfishness has defined you more than sports ever could define anyone. I wrote an article on you for my hockey website, lavioletteism.wordpress.com, and in it I gave a summary of what you have accomplished in your fifty years, promoted your centre, and summarized what you have done for others with this quote from Mark Twain:
“If we should seek justice only, in this world, who would escape? No, it is better to be generous, for it gains gratitude for us, and love.”
I feel that these words best describe you for you have gone and done for others what should have been done for you, all while forgoing any sort of self-pity. It gives me hope for western society, that some of us still hold an important core value – That helping others should always come before asking for help. In your situation, you were free to choose, and you did the most admirable thing. I will pass your story on to anyone who will listen, for there are so many great lessons for people to learn about themselves and the people around them from it.
I wish you all the best.
Approximately two months after mailing it out, I received an a-style envelope from Canada with the words “Caution: Pictures inside” written on it. Upon carefully opening and removing the contents, I found the most awe-inspiring thing. From his personal archives, Norm had autographed and personalized a photo from his NHL career in a game against the New York Rangers for me. I nearly exploded with delight as I lived out the archetypal boyhood dream of writing away to a personal hero and hearing back from them, and getting a sense of the more human side of what was just an image before. I knew just given what he did for other people that he was a great man, but now I have a story of my own. Hopefully I’ll have more like this to come.