Hello again everybody...
Boy I wish I had something more pleasant to write about. I warned you all a couple of weeks ago when I returned to writing that my work may not be as regular as it had been in the past; that I was more inclined to write “when the spirit moved me” rather than sticking to a set schedule.
I'm still not sure how that's all going to play out. For all I know, I may end up writing every Monday, Wednesday and Friday as I've done in the past. But for now, I'm posting when I feel like I've got something to say.
I just wish what I had to say today wasn't so damned depressing.
Maybe it'll be cathartic for me. Perhaps I even dare to dream that reading it will be cathartic for someone else. Either way, I figure it's worth writing.
So I'll get to it,
Right after the quote...
“There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval. The dark background which death supplies brings out the tender colors of life in all their purity.”
- George Santayana (1863 - 1952), American philosopher and poet
I'm really trying to find some positives in all of this, but it's not easy. Those “tender colors” are eluding me at the moment...
By now, I'm sure most of you have heard about the sad news from Friday. I'll briefly recap things, but mostly this is going to be about trying to wrap my head around it and finding a way to accept things and move forward.
Harmon Killebrew is dying.
That's the first bit of news that greeted me last Friday morning.
We'd known for a while that he was waging a battle with esophageal cancer. We'd known for a while that the battle wasn't likely to end well for Harmon.
Sadly, we found out on Friday that the battle was essentially lost, and Harmon had decided to enter hospice care rather than continue treatments that evidently hadn't worked.
Even armed with the knowledge that esophageal cancer isn't one of the more treatable forms of cancer, this still came as a blow to those of us who'd had the pleasure to meet Harmon over the years. Ask any of those folks and they'll all say the same thing: Harm's one of the good guys. And it's painful to see one of the good guys taken out by such a painful disease.
In the latter stages of my grandfather's life, he spent a lot of time at the VA Medical Center. The folks who run that place do the best job they can on a government budget to make life as comfortable for sick and dying veterans as they can, but it's still not a fun place to visit.
That didn't stop Harmon Killebrew from stopping by.
Harm was in the next generation of baseball players after guys like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio who put their careers on hold to serve in WWII. He saw the sacrifices those guys made, and never forgot the value of those folks who chose to serve their country.
So when he was offered the opportunity to stop by the VA and chat with some of the vets he gladly took it.
I wasn't there the day that he sat and chatted with my grandfather and other vets. But I still have one of the baseballs he willingly signed, and the stories about that day which have been passed to me by the folks who were there are seared into my memory.
I think the notion of the arrogant, stuck-up, “life owes me something” pro athlete get overblown. Yes, those guys are out there, but I don't think they're as prevalent as a lot of people assume.
For the most part, pro athletes are just guys trying to get through the day, the same as anybody else. They help where they can, but for the most part, they're just trying to live life. Unlike most people, however, they live it with an extra layer of security around them.
I'm not just talking about bodyguards - though sadly, for some, that's a necessity - I'm talking about having emotional walls up, because 90% of the people they meet every day want something from them.
Don't get me wrong, I'd trade places with most of them in a heartbeat. But think I can understand how tough it's got to be after a while to get asked for an autograph, picture, or “just five minutes” every single place you go.
If you meet 60 people a day who want “just five minutes of your time”, that's five hours of your day that get taken up. Sixty may seem like a exaggerated number, but in the lives of some high-profile athletes, that's par for the course.
So a lot of guys create a figurative distance between themselves and the people they interact with. They're not bad people, they just don't want to have all their time taken by media and fan requests.
The truly good guys, however, figure out a way to find a balance between their personal and public lives. Harmon was one of those guys.
He didn't let all of his time get taken up with media, fan and charity commitments. But when he did get involved with those things, he took them seriously and made a genuine effort to make the people he was involved with feel like he appreciated them.
That's the story you hear over and over again. “Harm shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said thank you... and I could tell he meant it.”
That's what I hear from the folks who were with my grandfather at the VA. And that's what I know from having met Harmon in the course of my job duties.
Harm's one of the good guys. I just hope his transition to the next world is as quick and comfortable as possible.
I only met Derek Boogaard briefly one time, but it didn't take long to figure out he was one of the good guys too.
The news of his death was as big a blow as the news about Harmon. Maybe even more so, since unlike the news about Killer, it was completely unexpected.
The “Boogie Man”, as Minnesota hockey fans affectionately dubbed him, was an intimidating presence. Standing every inch of 6-feet 7-inches, there was a moment when you met him where you had to briefly consider the fact that this guy could crush you if he really wanted to, and there'd be very little you could do to stop him.
But that thought was very brief, because it only took a short conversation with him to feel completely at ease.
The day I met Derek, he was out at the State Fair promoting the Wild's new green sweaters. He was also as sick as a dog. Yet even while feeling ill, he managed to crack a few jokes and thank everybody involved for having him on the air.
Not something he had to do, but just like Harmon, he went out of his way to do it anyway.
We don't know yet what caused Derek's death on Friday, only that he was found dead in his apartment by his brothers who were in town for a visit.
I'm not sure it really matters what caused it though. Nobody should be dead at 28 years old. Nobody.
So I got going on Friday to the news that Harm was near the end, and got home to find out that the Boogie Man was no more.
Throughout the day I got emails, texts and tweets asking if I'd heard and what I knew. My response was generally the same: “This day needs to end... quickly.”
In the past, I've talked about my struggles understanding death. Why it comes to some good people in such a painful way, and why it comes to others far too early in their lives.
I'm no closer to understanding it today than I ever have been.
I admire the sentiments of folks like Mr. Santayana. I wish I could see death in that kind of uplifting way.
But I don't.
I'll try to tip my cap to Harm, and say a small thank you for the joy he brought my grandfather late in his life. I'll try to salute Derek and say a small thank you for all the fun he brought hockey fans as we watched him pummel his opponents.
I'll try to accept that they're going and gone, and that death is a natural part of life.
But I'd still vastly prefer to forget about Friday all together.
That's going to wrap things up for today. I'm not sure I feel any better, but maybe a little.
Still not sure when the next columns coming. I just hope it's inspired by something a lot less dramatic than this!
Until next time, thanks for reading!