Friday, February 19, 2010


My cousin Johnnie Daniel writes feature stories and covers Town Council meetings for a small newspaper in southeast Louisiana. He also raises money, through private appeals, for dying children, athletes, handicapped, and disenfranchised people. Now in his late 40’s, Johnnie became paraplegic at 18 when he slid into home base at a local baseball game and became paralyzed from the waist down. He types with a pencil strapped to his right hand and writes warm human-interest features that reflect his strength of character and endurance, and he's an inspiration to all of us who call him kin.

Johnnie and I correspond with each other through e-mail, and I think about him when I have fleeting bouts of acedia and encounter so-called “victims” whose situations in this life have really given them little to grouse about.

Johnnie’s latest feature story for his hometown newspaper centered on three-year old Adrianna Cavanaugh who died of neuroblastoma after a year-long bout with the disease. Johnnie helped raise money so that her parents could have precious time to be at their daughter’s side without worrying about financial burdens. Johnnie attended many of the candle light vigils for Adrianna, and the editor of his newspaper, “The Era Leader,” requested that he write a feature about Adrianna, which was published a few days before she died. “It was the hardest story I ever wrote,” Johnnie said. He had followed Adrianna throughout the year and, like others, had hoped that she would recover. At one point in her treatments at hospitals in the East, Adrianna’s disease went into remission… but the relief was short-lived. She was brought home in a Learjet to spend time with a loving community in Franklinton, Louisiana.

Johnnie has one of those compassionate hearts that has been educated by tragedy, and his life is a lesson to those who blame the world and other people for their life situations. He smiles, jokes with visitors, takes photographs of his nieces celebrating their birthdays, writes articles, reads, sends out appeals, and travels to Tennessee in the summer. Like a good Louisiana sports fan, he follows the Saints, attends Tiger football and basketball games, and still supports the great American game of baseball.

As Johnnie’s cousin, I’m prejudiced in his behalf, but I think he hits a home run every day of his life, if you’ll pardon my sentiment. When I encounter people who, because of self absorption and acedia, don’t even step up to bat, I thank God for all the Johnnies who know the power and strength of intentionality and who vow to become contributing persons. And I won’t even say “despite,” because Johnnie doesn’t acknowledge the existence of that word.
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