By now you've surely heard of Ted Williams, the "golden-voiced" homeless guy plucked from the side of a Cleveland highway and rescued from poverty. Job offers, a place to live, even grocery money have all poured in for the guy who spent his days panhandling with a cardboard sign. On the evening news, he appears newly shaved and shorn in nice clothing -- a far cry from the first images of him begging for money. He admits that he lost everything in a haze of drugs and alcohol but is ready to use his gift of a beautiful voice to begin recouping his losses. What's wrong with this picture?
It's not wrong that Williams has becoming an iconic figure, something out of a Frank Capra movie. Oh no, not at all. Our nation is built on second chances. It's that he is one of approximately two million Americans who will be homeless tonight and likely the only one with a name and a press conference. Many of them have cardboard signs of their own as they stand near intersections and street corners all across our nation. Like Williams, many of them are there due to their own addictions and bad decisions. Some are victims of a rotten economy. But also like him, many of them could hold jobs and become contributing members of society if they weren't invisible.
What allowed Ted Williams to stop being the Invisible Man? It was the unexpectedness of that voice, rich and deep, a voice that could reassure us that nine out of ten doctors agree or that the evening news with Katie Couric is up next. We are a country that loves finding treasure in unexpected places; we love the frog that turns into a prince.
So the moral of the story is not that so many riches shouldn't be heaped on one man. I would love to hear that Williams is the voice of the Cleveland Cavaliers, commuting to work from his shiny apartment in the 'burbs, his cardboard sign framed and hanging over his sofa. Happy endings are good for us all. But the moral of the story is that we should look each homeless person in the face and seek out the unique gifts that each of us possess. If the people of Cleveland can summon the generosity to celebrate Ted Williams, why can't more communities find similar generosity for their homeless brothers and sisters?
Perhaps Ted's legacy will be less about his voice and more about his hand, pointing toward others like him who are huddled under cardboard and blankets to get through the dark cold nights of winter. Under some of those blankets, we may find our own unexpected heroes -- or at least a fellow human being willing and eager to work and rejoin our communities. We can call it "Tedding."
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