David Cook: Courage meets Glen Campbell

David Cook: Courage meets Glen Campbell

November 4th, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

When God was dishing out courage, Rick Davis got an extra helping.

Supersized.

Rick's got more guts and courage in his right hand than some entire ZIP codes.

Speaking of hands, you ought to see Rick's. They tend to shake and wander, as if they're being pulled by some invisible set of strings. His fingers are bent backward, twisted and intertwined. His wrist is cocked back at a hard-degree angle.

And his legs? Bent and contorted like saltwater taffy back under him, as if he's perpetually sitting on his knees.

Forty-seven years ago, Rick was born with severe cerebral palsy.

This past summer, like a horse bursting out of a pen, Rick's courageous heart and mind pulled his palsied body north, on an adventure of a lifetime.

To Washington, D.C.

All by himself.

To see music star Glen Campbell in concert.

"I've got to ask you," he said to me, with a big grin, as I sat down next to him on his carpeted floor one recent afternoon. "Are you old enough to remember Glen Campbell?"

Rick lives with his black Lab, Roseanne, in a one-level, one-bedroom Hamilton County house. His mattress is on the floor, a few feet from a bathroom with a custom sink 16 inches off the floor. Posters of Campbell, Bear Bryant and Einstein are hung near his framed degrees -- he graduated from Brainerd High School in 1983, then Memphis State University.

When Campbell recently announced his farewell tour (he has Alzheimer's), Rick had to go. But when you can't tie your shoes, and your food has to be cut up into small bites, and your words take a very long time to get out, going solo to Virginia to see a concert by yourself is like a moonwalk. One unending trust-fall.

And like all journeys, there was trouble.

Days before his Chattanooga-to-D.C. flight, Rick's hired nurse in D.C. canceled. Which meant that, when his plane landed, he would be all alone.

"Just God, me and my chair," he said.

Scratch the chair. Landing in D.C., Rick discovered his motorized wheelchair had been damaged. Wouldn't run. Which is not unlike somebody dropping you off in the middle of Taiwan, blindfolding you and walking away.

Determined, Rick kept to his plan. A taxi dropped him off at the Marriott. That's when the magic begins.

Rick is scooped up by the loving-kindness of the hotel staff. They help him to his room. Put his mattress on the floor. Take off his shoes. Call a wheelchair repairman, who talks them through fixing his chair.

Hours before the show, the doors open at The Birchmere Music Hall and concertgoers rush past the slow-motoring Rick to claim first-come, first-served seats.

But two strangers help Rick -- who got in line four hours before the doors opened -- get to his spot on the front row. Two feet from the stage.

Campbell plays, even coming close enough to shake Rick's hand. After the show, Campbell's stage manager hands him two personalized guitar picks.

On his way back to the hotel, Rick hears a Birchmere manager ask: Want another front row seat for tomorrow night's show?

At dinner the next night, the waitress stops what she's doing to help feed Rick. When he gets to the Birchmere, another manager tells him to stick around after the show.

Guess why.

"We went through secret passageways to a door," Rick remembered. "A minute later, Glen Campbell walks out. All I could say was 'Glen Campbell! It's Glen Campbell! I love you!' That's all I could get out, over and over."

Campbell signs his concert ticket. Picture after picture after picture of Rick and Glen. Never has Washington seen a bigger smile than Rick's that night.

Returning home, Rick typed up his entire story. Had to preserve it, cherish it. But typing?

When I was with him, I asked him to type out "Alabama Crimson Tide."

It took 61 seconds.

The story of his trip? It runs 2,722 words. Took him two full weekends to type. Not one word is misspelled.

"David," he emailed me a few days after our interview, "if you can work it in, I'd also like to say that God and the loving support of friends and family [including Roseanne] make it possible for me to live as independently as I do."

Rick, I can work it in. I want to work this in, too:

Thanks for reminding me of the beauty and goodness of the human spirit. That courage is oxygen to the soul. And that when the trapdoors in life open, someone's always there to catch you.

"Sometimes," he said, "you just gotta go for it."