Story by David Hood

Photo by David Le

Finding Faith in God and the Will to Live

The distance between the outside of a man’s chest to his heart is just under two inches. Upon visual inspection, holding two fingers at this length casually means a “close call.” Anatomically, I was that close to dying: fractions of inches and just a few seconds away.

I was the kid who aspired to be a college basketball player. My dad was my coach, my mentor and my guide. He almost made it to the NBA, and in addition to molding me to be a star, he taught me to be different from all the other guys on my Paso Robles High School basketball team. While others were partying, I treated every woman with respect and stayed up late doing homework.

I opened doors for girls and helped them over curbs. I didn’t swear and I talked with clarity and purpose. I came from a tiny Catholic middle school from down the street. On the court, as my father instructed, I was a team player. I always looked for the assist, and I had a remarkable jump shot. I wasn’t the strongest or the quickest on the team, but my dedication to the game was unmatched. But no matter how hard I worked at basketball, volleyball was the sport I shone in. I was the star of my high school’s volleyball team. Nevertheless, my time spent playing basketball felt like a modern Rudy story — only he got his chance.

In basketball, I didn’t. My coaches sided with my teammates and didn’t see the potential I had for the team and for the game. They saw only my weakness and none of my sacrifices.

I grabbed the knife I received as a child and felt the cool blade against my arm.

One spring day in my sophomore year, at the local gym where all the guys would go to play, I had a chance to play, and I was doing fairly well. But at one point, an upperclassman on the opposite team called for the ball and in my zeal, I passed it to him for a turnover. It was an embarrassing mistake, hardly enough to get ridiculed on a normal day. At first, the team stopped playing and crowded around me jeering and laughing at me. Before I knew it, every person in the basketball program there that day was ridiculing me. They pushed and shoved me until I was completely surrounded with my back against the wall.

“Get off the court!” They shouted.

“Just throw in the towel.”

“Why don’t you just go home?”

“Why are you even here?”

And then it got worse.

“Why don’t you just give up!?”

“Why don’t you just kill yourself?”

“You’re not good enough to live!”

Just give up.

Their message: They wanted me to die. I wasn’t good enough for the court. I wasn’t even good enough in their presence, as that became more and more obvious with every cold shoulder in the hallway and every smirk at every practice after.

One day, as I was sitting alone in my room doing homework, all of the thoughts of inadequacy and failure flooded back into my mind. I convinced myself that I was a failure, and the pressure intensified.

I grabbed my pocket knife I had received as a child and felt the cool blade against my arm. To this day, I have no idea why it didn’t pierce my skin. I just wanted all the pain and feelings of dissolution to bleed out of me. Only physical pain, it seemed, would rid my mind of the voices and searing agony of perceived failure.

And then I started hearing two sets of voices, both of them different and very clear.

“Just give up. You’re not good enough,” said one.

“Please, David, don’t give up,” said the other.

“Just throw in the towel!”

“You’re worth much, much more.”

“You are a failure!”

Suddenly, the voices crescendoed into a cacophony of screams and shrills. The pain, at that point, was too much. I grasped the blade between my hands and dug it into my shirt. The end, I told myself, had come.

But I had a bit of logic in that moment. I thought I should leave a note for my family. So I wrote the best and most depressing poem I have ever written to date and left it on my computer.

I picked up the knife. “Now,” I told myself, “the end is here.”

I picked up the knife. “Now,” I told myself, “the end is here.”

Not even my parents who wanted the world for me could help me then.

As the knife pierced my shirt and the outside layer of skin, all the voices suddenly stopped without warning, and I heard something I will never forget.

A voice, soothing, barely a whisper, was sobbing quietly. Through the sobs, the voice said, “David, please don’t give up. I have so much planned for you that you don’t even know. I love you. Please don’t give up.”

I lost it.

I dropped the knife and fell to my knees and then to the ground crying uncontrollably. I flailed and cried, rocked and wept. I was broken.

When I had gained composure, I got to my knees again and said, “OK, God. I’ll trust you. But I can’t do this alone. I need you.”

I returned my jersey that year to improve my skills as an athlete and focus on volleyball. In the meantime, I told myself I was going to become the best I could be in both sports.

Two years later, I received a letter from Hope International University’s men’s volleyball coach offering me an athletic scholarship for the university’s nationally-ranked team. I hit my knees again and tears filled my eyes, remembering that disconsolate moment from two years before.

And God said to me, “Thank you for not giving up. I have much greater plans for you than this .... This is just the beginning.”

The approximate distance from my chest to my heart is just under two inches. That’s how close I was to dying and the farthest away from Jesus I have ever been since.