Andrew Smith was a Butler basketball player who played on the two Bulldog basketball teams that went to back-to-back Final Fours in the NCAA tournament just a few years ago. This morning he died after a two-year fight against cancer. He was 25.
I never met Andrew or his young wife Samantha. My only real connection to him is the fact we went to the same college -- 20 years apart. So why, I wonder, did I stand in a gym tonight and will my tears not to fall? I think it has something to do with Cinderella.
When Butler made its first NCAA run to the Final Four in 2010, they were tagged as a "Cinderella" team. No one expected them to make it to the big dance. But they didn't listen to everyone else's expectations. They kept their heads up, their hopes high, and their determination solid.
Andrew was a Cinderella cancer patient, of sorts, invited to a cruel dance. No one expected him to be there, in the role of patient with a hospital as his ballroom. Just before his diagnosis, he had been playing professional basketball in Europe. In their approach to cancer, Andrew and Samantha Smith kept their hands folded, their faith high, and their trust in God solid.
Cinderella had a fairy godmother who waved a wand and turned dirty, raggedy clothes into a radiant gown. She transformed mice into footmen and a pumpkin into a glittering carriage.
I think somewhere along the way, I let myself believe that Andrew Smith would have a godmother who would work unimaginable miracles, that Andrew's story would become a hopeful fairy tale told to generations.
I kept up with Andrew's cancer journey through blog posts from his wife. I could hear the urgency in the voice she used to tell their story. I could also hear the fierceness with which the Smiths believed that Andrew would be healed. Samantha Smith did not paint a rosy picture -- she painted an honest one.
She wrote about the ugly stepsisters of cancer -- pain, nausea, frustration, desperation. She wrote about Prince Charming -- the stranger who swept in to donate the bone marrow that held the potential for a cure. In the past few weeks, Samantha wrote about the desperate search for the glass slipper -- a clinical trial -- that would give she and Andrew a chance to live happily ever after.
Sadly, this story does not have a fairy tale ending, at least not as this world would define it. But the faith that Andrew and Samantha so unabashedly shared with all those who lifted their hearts for Andrew's healing tells us that this tale does have an eternal happy ending.
I don't cry often or easily. But I did cry when the Butler Bulldogs lost the 2010 National Championship to Duke. So I guess it's ok for me to cry at the loss of a 6-foot, 11-inch Cinderella named Andrew.