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Dear Alabama...

I was nine years old when I first met my father, Leldon Ball. He was standing in the middle of a small gaggle of relatives gathered at the airport in Birmingham to welcome my older sister and me to our new home in Alabama. Nine years earlier, I was an unborn child when my mother fled to California with their three-year-old daughter. Nobody knows what she was fleeing from, but most likely it was the chronic mental illness that would plague her throughout her life.

California didn’t work out well for my sister and me. We eventually became wards of the state. By the time authorities located my father and arranged for him to assume custody, I had already been committing petty crimes. But my father immediately began instilling a moral standard in me based on honesty, compassion, courage, humility and a strong work ethic.

For the next few years, we were almost constant companions as he continued to impart those values to me with countless personal demonstrations and illustrations. He continually imparted his wisdom while we worked, played and worshipped together.

During the 60s, Jim Crow set an opposite standard in Alabama that separated people according to race with mandates that included separate schools, public restrooms and restaurants. Segregation was the hot-button political issue of the day, and opportunistic politicians knew how to make the most of the fear generated by those who refused to conform to the societal norm.

My father didn’t care about politics. He didn’t even vote. He was preoccupied with how to live and have a positive effect on those whose path crossed his. I can’t count the times that he took time to help a stranger without regard for pigmentation.

He had many friends because he wanted to be a friend. He was respected by others because he was respectful to others. He was loved by many because he freely shared the love within him without discrimination. He was a beacon of light in a world of darkness. He was not pretentious enough to think he could save the world, but he saved me. In August 1969, Leldon Ball gave his life while saving mine.

There are scornful Christians who might scoff at me for describing a man in terms they would use to only describe Jesus, but I am describing another example of the same thing. Religious dogma, like political edicts, tend to create bitterness, resentment and contempt while they attempt to enforce conformity for the sake of peace and order.

Love does not seek to enforce conformity. Instead, it brings peace and order with its power to transform pain into gratitude, which gets me to the main reason that I have spent nearly fifty years trying to serve others. Serving others allowed the supernatural power of love to heal my pain discretely and continually by transforming it into gratitude, instead of allowing it to fester into bitterness and contempt.

Gratitude is the primary byproduct of love, and gratitude is what caused me to spend most of my life trying to repay a debt that has no price. It was the driving force that guided me to serve in the Marine Corps, the Alabama State Troopers, the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, and finally the Alabama House of Representatives. Although each period of service prepared me for the next one, none brought me any closer to retiring the debt. It just keeps piling up.

Love is the opposite of money. In the world of love, debt is a good thing. It isn’t supposed to be saved; it is meant to be spent. The more we spend, the more we have; and we gain it by giving it. As my political career draws to a close, I gaze down the homestretch of my journey with a curious sensation of contentment. Maybe it’s because I’ve stopped worrying about the debt.

I’ve learned that the larger my debt of gratitude, the happier the ending I can expect.

(Published by 256 Today)


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