May 4, 2004

Reflecting on a Year's Lessons

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When Pat Tillman left the NFL three years ago, he dropped his pads and a $3.6 million contract for fatigues and a soldier’s salary. Thursday, April 22, he died fighting in Afghanistan. On the same day, Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr rallied his followers to continue their insurgence, saying that he wanted to be the “striking arm” of Hamas in Iraq. Exactly one month earlier, George Boiardi’s family laid its son to rest in Washington D.C. The juxtaposition of Tillman and Boiardi’s tragic deaths against al-Sadr’s threat puts life in perspective: in a world of certain uncertainty, we are never safe from death but neither are we ever precluded from really living.

Individuals like Tillman and Boiardi give us hope and an example.

In the past year, I’ve had the pleasure to applaud and admonish, talk and teach in this column. Now, with the semester’s end four days away, I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on three things I’ve learned.

First, it’s easy to complain but far more rewarding to find the positive. Ithaca winters stink. Hiking up Libe slope is a pain. The football team went 1-9. School is hard. But this past weekend, my parents came from St. Louis to visit campus — and reminded me just how lucky we all are. The beautiful weekend weather held just long enough for hundreds of students get outside and cherish the sunshine. Few other schools in the country have the rolling hills or, for that matter, the gorges and seasons that we take for granted. The football team may have been bad, but its new coach will only inspire it to better things. We go to an Ivy League university, with endless opportunities awaiting us, while many teenagers have only one choice after high school: a dead-end job.

Second, life is too short to let opportunity pass by. The day Boiardi died, I was covering the lacrosse game. From my perch in the Schoellkopf press box, I watched as Boiardi, defending the net, got hit with a shot and collapsed. Helpless, I looked on as paramedics rushed the field and players ushered off. When Boiardi left in an ambulance, tears and anguished expressions on players’ and coaches’ faces confirmed the worst.

But, from my seat on a Sage Chapel pew at Boiardi’s memorial service, I heard the words of his friends, family, and teachers which confirmed that George was a person who had inspired countless people during his life and that his legacy will continue to enlighten countless others in the future.

Though I didn’t know Boiardi personally, the impact of his death touched me vicariously. As I walked home from that fateful game, I did something I don’t often do: call home to say ‘I love you mom and dad’. The sudden and unforeseeable nature of Boiardi’s death made me realize how easily the carpet can get yanked from under our feet, despite everything we do to keep it intact. It also made me realize that most of us run our daily routines clouded by superficial thoughts of grades, money, image — and that we too infrequently make time to appreciate what really matters: friends, family, and love. I, for one, won’t ever let that happen again.

Finally, I learned that it’s easy to allow extraneous influences detour our path, but passion remains the one true north on life’s compass. Pat Tillman had it good: celebrity on the football field, a new wife, and financial security. There’s a reason he was the only pro player to enlist in the military following the September 11th attacks: the NFL is the good life. But his true calling wasn’t tackling, it was fighting terrorism.

Tillman paid dearly to achieve that dream, but he left this life fulfilled, and that is all the glory he ever wanted. We should all aspire to be so true to ourselves, willing to risk it all for the ideals and people who matter most to us.

So with my final column of the year, I’ll take this opportunity to thank the people who’ve meant the most to me in my most tumultuous times:

Thank you D for your patience and smile. Few people have the fortitude to weather my attitude or the spark to fire me up when my flame is all but out. You keep me going when times get rough. I only hope to return half the favor.

Thank you to the men of the Chi for your excellence. After graduating high school, I feared that I might never find better friends. I have. There’s not a doubt in my mind I would have left Cornell after freshman year were it not for you guys. Ithaca and Cornell can drive a person to depression with its dreary weather and demanding workload, but I can always count on a good laugh, sound advice, and great times at my home away from home. My only regret is not being there more. In so many words, I need this…

Thank you to my family for your example, advice, and support. I wouldn’t know how to write or what to write about without you. And, at times, I may not have any readers without you either.

And thank you Pat Tillman, Mario St. George Boiardi, and Muqtada al-Sadr for showing us all the good and the bad in the world, for showing us the power of the human spirit to raise the bar or undermine it, for giving us something to work toward and fight against.

Archived article by Everett Hullverson