Jewish World Review June 11, 2013/ 3 Tamuz, 5773
Miraculously, a teens-and-guns story that doesn't end with a funeral
By Mitch Albom
Cheers and bullets. An incongruous pairing. But no more incongruous than being a child in
So Hollings, captain of the football, baseball and golf teams at
Not surprisingly, he popped back up.
"You all right?" a friend said.
"Yeah," he said, "but I been hit."
And he went down again.
He was rushed to DMC Sinai-Grace hospital. The doctor who operated figured Hollings had no chance. The bullet entered the right side of his head, destroying part of his skull and lodging in his brain. "He was essentially," the surgeon, Aria Sabit, told the
But this is
Good and bad, we make our own definitions.
Sixty days after being shot, Hollings sits in front of me. His voice is mostly steady, his vocabulary full. His smile comes as easy as poured syrup.
He is 6-feet-1, was close to 320 pounds before the incident, and played offensive and defensive lineman for Northwestern, snapping the ball on one side, hulking over it on the other. "I was gonna go to college to play," he said. "Before this."
"This" has changed things. The bullet remains in his brain, too precarious to remove. His rehabilitation has been no less than stunning -- even medical people blink and shake their heads -- but, he says, he can still only walk 500 feet unassisted. With typical youthful buoyancy, he declares, "I'm fully rehabilitated." But there is work to be done.
With grace, he will do it. Hollings already has survived more than one kid should have to. His father, he says, "went to jail when I was 3." His mother died two years ago "of a heart attack in her sleep." His older sister became his legal guardian.
Balaal kept going. He was elected class president and voted most likely to succeed. He played six sports. The day of the party, he had just come back from a trip across the south, where he and other students played golf, visited universities and saw cultural institutions as part of the Midnight Golf mentoring and empowerment program.
"I should have just stayed in bed," he says.
You may have heard already about Balaal Hollings -- or you will soon. And, in a YouTube culture, he is a video must-see, surprising his high school last week by walking into graduation and delivering a speech -- as he planned to do before the gunfire. When they saw him in a gown, a pink tassel on his helmet, his classmates roared their approval.
Cheers and bullets.
"It is so good to be alive," he told the crowd. And they roared again -- in part for him, and in part, maybe, for themselves, because here was a teens-and-guns story that didn't end in a funeral. We have so many of those. Too many. Gun assaults have risen steadily in
"The only people who should have guns is military and police officers," he says, shaking his wounded head. "It's scary."
It is. But Hollings' smile is inspiring -- as is his plan to attend
"Don't go to house parties."
Anything bigger? "Yeah ... whatever you want to believe in, just believe in a higher power ... Because it was somebody's doing that allowed me to be talking to you today."
Balaal Hollings shakes my hand and walks away -- a miracle in itself. He turned 18 this month. A legal
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