Hooper: Don’t Call it a Coincidence, Call it Faith

Hooper: Don’t Call it a Coincidence, Call it Faith

By Ernest Hooper, Communications Director American Cancer Society

As we continue to engage in social distancing and seek a deeper meaning about the impact of COVID-19, the American Cancer Society continues to attack cancer at all angles, serving patients through its network of Hope Lodges and its National Cancer Information Center (1-800-227-2345). We’re reassuring volunteers they will get a chance to further our mission even though we’ve had to suspend many of our Relay For Life fundraisers.

   I’m not only proud to be involved in this effort, I’m convinced God wanted me to be part of the mission as the communications director for the Society’s southwest Florida region. 

  To understand what I mean, know this: Somewhere between the improbable encounter that led me to connect with my future wife and the casual conversation that redirected my future path from Denny’s restaurant manager to a career in journalism, I stopped believing in coincidences.

   Over and over again, seminal moments and signs from a higher power have changed the trajectory of my life. Sometimes I seek and find them, sometimes they burst out of thin air and snap me to attention. 

   When I interviewed for the job at the American Cancer Society last October, seeking an encore career after spending 27 years as a columnist and editor at the Tampa Bay Times, I stood at a profound crossroads: a three-way intersection of nerves, excitement and uncertainty.

   I mapped out a busy day that would bookend the interview: a breakfast with the Central West Coast Florida chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association, followed by the lunchtime interview and then an afternoon and evening at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday that Boyz II Men would cap off as the headliner.

   Of course, the itinerary called for a wardrobe change. I couldn’t suit up for the morning meeting and midday inquiry and then wear a coat and tie to the outdoor concert event of the year.

   No problem. I bought a change of clothes.

   In the morning, I went through a speed-dating format, sharing advice with the PR professionals while never revealing that I might be on the verge of joining them on the other side of journalism.

   At the ACS interview, I put on my best smile and spoke glowingly about the possibilities. Again, I wanted them to see me as a talented writer seeking a chance to return to the storytelling and community connections that had highlighted my last 18 years at the paper. I didn’t want them to identify the trepidation I held about leaving a place I loved.

   I felt like it went well. I’m sure I talked too much, but the man who would become my supervisor expressed appreciation for my talents, and the executive director of the region shared that she received glowing accounts.

  I went to the car to get my change of clothes and discovered that I left my comfortable athletic shoes at home. Now what? Dress down in jeans and a casual shirt and pair the ensemble with my Sunday dress shoes? No way. I had to go to the store and get something simple: white Nikes or black adidas or something.

   As I made my way into the mall, a friend called and shared that the paper’s parent company, the esteemed Poynter Institute, might want to hire me. Just the suggestion fried my mind like bologna on a skillet. It warmed my hopes and possibilities and filled my head like the aroma of Oscar Mayer once filled my childhood home.

   I mean, the company that helped me raise my three kids might be willing to help me again?

   I tried to find shoes while I talked to my friend on the phone, but I couldn’t think straight. For those who have worked four or five jobs in a short period of time, the calculus required to navigate this path may seem simple. But I had spent nearly three decades at the same company. To know I might be able to realign with my original mission intrigued me.

  My bologna mind curled up, grew wrinkly and began to burn.

  I thanked my friend for her concern and ended the conversation while the pros and cons kept swirling. 

   All this analysis led to paralysis when it came to buying the shoes. I ventured from store to store unable to make a decision. 

   Now, my friends at the concert started texting, wanting to know why I wasn’t at Coachman. I concluded I needed to get on the Courtney Campbell Causeway and beat the rush hour traffic.

   The shoes? I’d buy those in Clearwater. I thought for sure there was a DSW at the old Clearwater Mall, which was on the way. Surely, they would have what I needed.

   But when I reached the Clearwater Mall, there was no DSW. I saw a Target, a Ross, and a Marshalls. Where would I go? Tick, tick, tick.

   I wheeled around the corner and spotted Skechers. Sure, that would work. I hustled in, grabbed a decent pair (with memory foam) that appeared to match my shirt. Of course, my haste to get to the concert shared space in my mind with the day’s events. Should I consider a position at Poynter? Should I go work for the cancer society? Oh wait, neither had offered me a job. I was getting ahead of myself. 

   In a mental fog, I put the box on the counter and handed my credit card to the clerk, barely listening as she asked if I belonged to the store’s “Elite program.” Thoughts continued to lap my mind, all at a faster speed.

   Then the clerk asked, “Would you like to make a donation to the American Cancer Society?”

   “What did you say?” I asked.

   “Would you like to make a donation to the American Cancer Society? If you donate $3 you get 20 percent off your next purchase.”

   I looked up and literally — and perhaps figuratively — saw a sign.

   The swirl of thoughts slowed to a crawl. I donated $10, arrived at Clearwater’s Coachman Park with time to spare and spent the rest of the evening awash in clarity. As Boyz II Men crooned End of the Road, I knew I was ready to embark on a new one.

   A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps …

   After all, I had ample opportunities to buy that pair of shoes at any number of stores, but somehow I ended up in the one place where the American Cancer Society had formed a partnership. Coincidence? Or another of God’s signposts trying to point me in the right direction? I told you before I stopped believing in coincidences a long time ago.

   And now I’m here, still confident I made the right decision despite the impact COVID-19 is having on our mission. On the surface, the suspension of our fundraising efforts is undoubtedly a setback. Yet I’ve received signs — including the simple dedication of staff and volunteers who remain unbowed by this crisis — that we will find a way to succeed.

   As our CEO Gary Reedy posted earlier this week, “One thing that remains constant is that the American Cancer Society will be there for cancer patients when they need us most.”

For more information about the coronavirus and cancer patients, visit www.cancer.org or call 1-800-227-2345 anytime. Those so moved to lend support to our programs can visit cancer.org to donate to the lifesaving mission of the American Cancer Society. The fight continues.

10 Replies to “Hooper: Don’t Call it a Coincidence, Call it Faith”

  1. We’ve missed your writing, Ernest, but know God has great plans for you right where you are. Wonderful article, as always!

  2. I loved this! I’m a total believer in God’s messages and perfect timing. I’ve also heard of them as Godwinks. You are right, Ernest. There are no coincidences. God is the one behind all of the signs. He surely directed you to the American Cancer Society and they are lucky to have you!

  3. I have lived my whole life on faith, and that God has a plan. We sometimes don’t understand it. I feel sure that was a sign. I know that you will do great work for them.

  4. How wonderful to read one of your heartfelt, moving messages. I’ve missed this! I have always believed in those “God Moments”, when you look back at some turning point in your life and see so clearly that it just had to be God pointing you in the right direction. That happened to me once at a little table in Panera Bread when God said, “Hey, meet Ernest Hooper. You’re gonna love this guy!”

  5. Ernest, thank God you had the presence of mind to see the sign. So often we are to busy to see them. Faith is a powerful thing. After years of great work, I have faith that you will be just as successful in this role as your last.