Today, Wednesday, is the 40th birthday of one of my closest friends, the great Beverly Oden.
Sports fans would know Bev’s name from the late 1980s and early 1990s, when she was one of the great volleyball players in United States history. Bev was an All-American at Stanford and a member of the ’96 Olympic team. She is one of three Oden sisters, along with Kim and Elaina, to stand out in the sport.
But volleyball, in the Bev package, is about one page of 1,000.
I first met Bev in 1997, when we were young up and comers at Sports Illustrated. We clicked immediately, though we made an unlikely combination. The cliche points to Bev being African-American, me being white. But that was nothing. More interesting is that Bev’s a devout, devout, devout Christian, and I’m a wayward agnostic Jew. Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had came from the myriad times Bev and I walked through Manhattan, from the office across from Radio City to our apartments. Bev and I would debate religion—Jesus vs. nothing; how could Noah exist; Genesis makes no sense. On and on and on. But there was rarely—if ever—yelling, and neither of us ever left in a huff. The talks were deep and detailed, but always respectful. One Easter, I attended Sunday mass in Central Park with Bev. That Passover, Bev came to my house for the first night. As we took the train home that night, Bev uttered a line that I’ve never, ever, ever let her forget. Moved by the tradition of the seder and the way my dad conducted things, she said, “You know, I think the Jews are gonna be alright.”
“What?” I said.
“Bev, did you say the Jews are gonna be alright?”
I’ve uttered this a gazillion times, but Bev is the type of personal Christianity needs. She’s the perfect role model, in that she lives as righteous and decent a life as anyone I’ve ever met … without trying to shove it in your face or demean your approach. As opposed to those religious folks who set out to convert, Bev merely walks on a higher plateau. I’ve never heard her curse—not once. She has the most endearing laugh you’ve ever be blessed to catch, and she’s an insanely good (and patient) listener. She’s as loyal a friend as I’ve ever had—the wife and I have talked about people who, to be corny, just make you feel good being in their presences. That’s Bev.
Bev lives in California. I live in New York. It sucks, because we see each other, on average, once every 1 1/2 years or so. Still, she’s become someone I admire, I confide in, I trust, I envy (her unwavering faith) and I believe in.
Happy birthday, Bev.
You’re old. 🙂