A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


It had only been a couple of days since I had seen Darlene. But in that brief period of time her life had been turned upside down and and then rightside up.

In what must have seemed like a lifetime but actually required only 48 hours, Darelene's mother became seriously ill; was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with appendicitis; and was taken to emergency surgery, where it was discovered that her appendix had been attacked by previously unknown cancer. The appendix and the cancer were removed, and the doctors pronounced her cancer-free. By the time I saw her again, Darlene had run the emotional gamut from concern to horror to exhilaration.

No wonder she looked drained.

"Everything happened so quickly," she said. "I think it's just now sinking in."

She paused, then looked at me with tears in her eyes.

"I never thought I'd be grateful for appendicitis," she said. "But without that surgery, who knows how long it would have been before the cancer was discovered? And who knows if it might have been... you know... too late..."

Her voice trailed off as huge tears pooled in her eyes. There was panic there, but also joy a strange mix of emotions, but a mixture that happens successfully many times, in many lives.

For me it happened more than 30 years ago when I was a high school sophomore trying out for the football team. Up until that time in my life, sports was my driving passion. Well, sports and this cute little dark-haired girl named Gayle.

Dad was something of a sports phenom in high school and college, and my three older brothers were always playing sports. I was by far the tallest of the Walker boys, and so I was expected to take the family athletic legacy to new heights. So to speak.

I had a moderately successful career on the junior high football team, and I hoped that I would really blossom in high school so I could get a scholarship to play college football. From there it would be a hop, skip and a jump to the NFL, where I was sure Jim Brown would come out of retirement so he could play with me.

Unfortunately, my back had other ideas.

I'm not exactly sure how I injured my back. I just remember the pain, subtle at first and then more and more profound until I could only lay on the turf, tearfully moaning. My coaches were filled with compassion and concern.

"What was his name again?" the varsity coach asked.

"Walters, I think," the sophomore coach said. "He's a lineman."

"Well, get him off the field. I don't want any of my boys tripping over him."

A few days later there were tears in my eyes again, this time because a doctor was telling me that I wouldn't play football again. It was the toughest thing I had ever had to deal with to that time in my life (well, that and the time Gayle dumped me), and for a while I was devastated.

I was still pretty much in shock when the high school drama coach asked me to be in a play he was directing (evidently the script called for a tall male with a bad back). For some reason I said yes, and my life was forever changed.

I ended up in college on a drama scholarship, of all things, and from there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to journalism and my life's work.

Of course, not every cloud has a silver lining. Sometimes bad things happen that are just . . . you know . . . bad. But it's amazing how often panic turns to joy in our lives, and supposed tragedies turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to us.

Whether we're upside down or rightside up.

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--- Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through