Emotion

What Comes Next for Kobe Bryant?

Kobe Bryant announced he will retire at the end of this NBA season. Twenty years, more than 1,300 games, 45,000-plus minutes, 33,000 points on over 11,000 buckets, five titles, one MVP, seventeen-times an All-Star, and the man who delivered thousands of scowls on the court. One heart in demand of greatness; one competitor craving competition.

But now Kobe readies for the greatest challenge of his life: leaving the game of basketball.

Kobe PPT

Source: Flickr, creative commons

(more…)

Advertisements

Lytleisms – Quotes from a Hall of Fame Smart A**

Dad suffered a heart attack and died five years ago today. Anyone that knew him understands this loss. Those that did not missed out on knowing a man who just got it. He understood when to comfort, like when he hugged my sister after she smashed her car into his while learning to drive and never said a word about the damage. And he knew when he needed to deliver a stern warning – in as few words as possible and with a sly smirk across his face – when I showed up for a workout hungover. It worked. We never needed to speak of the message again.

In To Dad, From Kelly, I described Dad as living “somewhere between the innocent and the instigator….he was a father, friend, mentor, and teacher. And he played these roles with a playful, often devious smile spread across his face.” A friend recently relayed with me a memory he has of Dad, and I think it beats at the heart of what made Dad special.

Like several examples in your book he was very good with timing. In tenth grade he pulled me aside after practice and gave me a talk telling me I had “it”. He even called my mom one day when I was skipping practice to tell me to get my ass there. Remember I was such a punk at this time most of school faculty hated me. Deservedly so. Huge in me (slightly) turning around to at least graduate and get it together. He could be very hard on me so when I was ruled ineligible for football in 96 I was mortified and scared to face him expecting him to be livid. When he finally spotted me at a bball game he was the opposite he was very tender because he could tell that’s what I needed. Can’t say enough about how big this was to me because he was so big in my eyes. To a man who grew up without a father these things are immeasurable. Many examples in your book of things I take going forward for my own family learned from great men like your dad.

(more…)

My Life in Shit

I wake up and can’t escape it. Smeared across the hardwood floor, caked into the carpet, stained inside my nose. There’s shit. Everywhere.

Our two dogs, Sula (a 13-year old pit bull with pensive eyes and a sensitive personality) and Panda (a 6-year old black and white shedding machine) rest on the couch, raising their heads at my snarls. They point their snouts and huff, indifferent, wondering how I could have the audacity to bother them at this early hour. Then they smile, I think, as I clean. They know that I know that this is their shit. And they give zero fucks about it.

I scoop and wipe and spray and blot. I disinfect and mop and curse and whine. When I’m done, I walk to the couch and lift Sula’s head, clutch her face, and melt in the gaze of her instantly innocent eyes. “I know it was you Sula,” I say, “You broke my heart. You broke my heart.” I kiss her and she rolls onto her back for a belly rub. Sometimes she farts. This is our routine. This is my life.

My friends and I in happier times

My friends and I in happier times

I feed the dogs and give thirty minutes for the food to settle before we venture outside, hoping this makes the entire shitty routine go more smoothly. When it’s time to walk, Panda – who reminds me of the hysterical hyena Ed from The Lion King and whose legs seem too short for her body – hops up and down and spins round and round. Sula is old and moves like it. If she had her way, she wouldn’t leave the couch the entire day. She’s like Paulie in Goodfellas, and doesn’t have to move for anybody. Making her go outside to poop offends her sensibilities.

Sula. Angel.

Sula. Angel.

Sula is particular where she poops. Panda doesn’t give a shit. Sula chooses from one of three grass patches about two blocks from our house, always pooping at the absolute edge as near to the road as she can without being in it. Her ass is in my face, and (I imagine) a big, happy smile is across hers as she watches the cars passing by acknowledge me readying to smush her crap into a green baggie. I pick up so many poops in these lavender-scented bags that lavender now smells like crap to me.

Panda doesn’t squat to poop. Instead, she arches her back in order to point her ass toward the ground. Maybe this causes hers to run like liquid concrete mix. One time, I stopped paying attention and Panda pooped on her leash. She celebrated by digging her back paws into the ground and kicking them into the morning sky as if revving for take-off.

New Panda

Panda and her pirate booty

The poop they carry must be heavy because their energy sparks once their business is done. Sula, with her muscular back and chest, shoots from her squat and barrels ahead, taking me along for the ride. Panda, with those legs that just don’t fit given the size of her belly, trots ahead like Babe Ruth to first base after a home run.

We’ve finished this morning’s walk, and the dogs have retreated to the couch. That’s where they head after their poop-performance art finishes. I’m at our kitchen table writing. I could say more about my life in shit, but I’ve run out of time. Coffee has chugged through me. Nature calls, now, and I must answer.

32152

Harlem Lax: A Profound Example of Why Sports Matter

Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights and, when it comes to youth sports, someone who has “been publicly outspoken about the winning-at-all cost mentality in which lip service is paid to academics and personal growth when it should be the other way around,” recently called Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership the “single best school-based co-curricular program I have ever seen” in an article for Dick’s Sporting Goods “Sports Matter” series.

As a sport, lacrosse historically is associated with white, upper class participants. That dynamic is changing, and lacrosse is the fastest growing high school sport in the country. In Harlem, though, lacrosse is being used as a vehicle to change lives, as,

the carrot to get kids to stay in school and become motivated far beyond the playing field. It is using the power of sports to unleash the potential of kids, many of whom…live in single parent households, some of who come from lower middle class backgrounds and some of whom live in shelters. It causes them to see a world they never knew existed but also to become a part of it.

Harlem Lax fascinated me for this reason. Sports, at their purest, can help participants experience not simply a world they never knew existed, but to challenge their minds and bodies to reach heights never believed possible. Sports can exist outside the confines of wins and losses, in a realm where the lessons are more tangible than the final score. As Bissinger writes:

Winning is exciting, molding a team into even greater cohesion. But it’s the level of effort that is important, the constant pounding away at the concept that what you put into anything in life is the exact same amount you get out of it. So is learning to overcome adversity and the twin companions of frustration and humiliation.

And the value stretches far beyond capitalizing on mere talent, to one of the most important virtues sports can teach – dedication:

It isn’t talent that defines a person but passion for something and love for something and dedication to something. Once you figure that out, which many kids first learn playing sports, the sky of possibility has no clouds. Talent can be squandered. Too many times it is squandered. But hard work and discipline are never squandered. They are never wasted.

When sports are kept in the right perspective and the idolization at all costs mentality is sacrificed, they offer a forum that unleashes an individual’s passion while instilling a framework that rewards discipline, dedication, work ethic, and the team. This is why sports matter. And why programs such as Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership are vital to the personal development of their participants.

The Junior Seau Hall of Fame Speech

Junior Seau played 20 seasons in the NFL. He made 12 Pro Bowls, the NFL’s all-decade team for the 1990’s, recorded nearly 2,000 tackles, and – in a sport renowned for its passionate foot soldiers – impressed an entire league with near unmatched ferocity and spirit. Seau committed suicide in 2012, at only 43 years old, ending his fight against the onslaught of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). When Seau died the cascading effects of repetitive collisions and brain trauma had altered his behavior. However, it had not changed the “passion” and “love” his family felt toward him.

The NFL inducted Seau into it’s Hall of Fame last Saturday evening. And though short-sighted ceremony rules prohibited Sydney Seau (Junior’s daughter) from speaking at the induction ceremony, she since recorded and shared the speech that she would have given.

Sydney Seau’s words are heartfelt, an eloquent remembering of a father gone too soon. On her father’s love for football, Sydney writes:

I think the point is, he could never fully retire from this game because that would indicate that he was quitting and you can’t quit something that is a part of who you are. Instead he graduates, and this is the diploma he has always dreamed of.

On missing her father and the hidden fragility of our super heroes:

But I think what we tend to forget about our favorite invincible, unstoppable, indestructible superhumans is the minor detail that they are also human. That is something that we all must endure today without his physical presence. We cannot celebrate his life and achievement without feeling the constant piece that’s missing.

And on her father’s greatest gift:

Dad, you gave us your time, your presence, your love, but most of all you gave us your heart. For that we honor you with this induction and this final graduation. I know at times it seemed as if everything you accomplished in life wasn’t enough, but today and every day since you held me in your arms for the first time, you weren’t just enough; you were more than enough. In fact, you were everything.

The full speech and video are provided in their entirety: The Hall of Fame Speech Junior Seau’s Daughter Couldn’t Give.

Saying Thank You to Mom on Father’s Day

I watched Mom stand, rest her hands on the top ridge of the wood pew in front of her, exhale, and move toward the front of the church where I stood. My words of remembrance for my father had just filled the air, and now Mom would speak. The sun pierced the stained glass windows, shining into the hushed crowd, which spilled into the balcony, aisleways, and crevices behind pillars. Grandpa, Mom’s dad, pressed a tissue to his eyes.

Mom moved with purpose. Red eyes singed by grief resisted an onslaught of tears. She would cry them later, in private. We hugged. A storm lurched inside me, a faucet dripped from my eyes. Mom ascended three slight steps until she stood behind the lectern ready to speak.

With her head high and voice steady as to betray the inner misery only those who’ve lost a spouse can understand, Mom read two passages from her books of daily inspiration, both from four days earlier—November 20—the day Dad had died.

The first came from the book of James: How do you know what is going to happen tomorrow. For the length of your lives is as uncertain as the morning fog.

The second from Ralph Waldo Emerson: The greatest gift is a portion of yourself.

***

Each day is nothing if not a series of choices—big and small, simple and difficult. Every morning I ask myself a series of questions: What type of person will I be today? Will I be someone who teaches? Will I give of myself to help others? I fall short (often) in my mission because life is too hard. Still, my answer never wavers, and my intentions are always the same. Yes, I will be that person, I say, and the reason is due to Mom’s example.

Mom exemplifies kindness, patience, and selflessness. She is a servant who acts in the service of others. And does so not for reward or recognition, but because the authenticity of her spirit demands no other path. Mom is that rare person who is wholly genuine in how she cares for others—day in, day out—in every patient question and every extra minute spent listening. Small acts magnified by thousands of changed lives.

I see school papers spread across our kitchen table, some decorated with stickers and others splashed with red ink. Mom is awake, working, before the sun has lifted its head from its pillow and not in bed until long after the Moon has spent its goodnight wishes. This is the example of Mom as a teacher, and thirty years of students are lucky to have had their essays on photosynthesis graded by someone who will never stop challenging—and encouraging—them to dream bigger and care deeper.IMG950914

There is the example of Mom as a patient listener. Students visit our house long after they’ve left Mom’s 5th grade class. They want to stay connected and close to the woman who will listen to them without limitation. Friends and family need her ear, too. Protected, guarded souls lay bare—exposed, yet comfortable as they seek counsel. When empathy always trumps judgment, every conversation is a chance to make a difference.

In 4th grade, I was in my basement playing video games on my Sega Genesis. Mom pounded down the stairs toward me, a fast and furious tornado whipping destruction from every blonde curl atop her head. My report card—and the C- I had received in reading—hung like a sickle waiting to slice at her side as she stood above where I sat on the floor. She backhanded the control from my hand, picked up the console, and smashed the Sega into the ground.

“This is the reason your grades stink,” she pointed at the Sega’s battered corpse. “Get your act together!”

This moment kickstarted my appreciation for how words and stories can transform our hearts. It also reminds me that for anyone who believed that Dad, with his football hero past, ruled our house is mistaken. Mom set the example for toughness.

I see Mom today as a grandmother, asking questions of and conversing with her granddaughter. Their interactions are blessed with laughter, smiles, and love. I watch these exchanges and I remember the mother who immersed herself in Erin’s life and mine. I remember Mom always helping with homework, probing us with questions, listening as we talked, and holding our hands as we cried. She’s with me in our driveway rebounding my missed jump shots, and she’s there on the track for every childhood sprint workout. Always positive; always caring; always present.

Mom made the best nachos, mixed the best Kool-Aid, and offered the best conversation for my friends and me. There exists a group of kids who grew up in Fremont, Ohio, near Birchard and Park or just off Buckland Avenue, who will always associate the Lytle home with Mom’s inviting spirit.

In This is Water, David Foster Wallace says: The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.

If the greatest gift we can give is a portion of ourselves, than I know of no greater example of sacrifice than Mom.

On this Father’s Day, as I reflect on the time I spent with my father, I find myself feeling grateful for Mom. Mom inspires me each day that she faces with courage, strength, and the willingness to rebuild from her heartbreak. She has inspired me with a lifetime of compassion, consideration, selflessness, and caring.

Thank you, Mom. I love you.

Heroes, Legends, and LeBron’s New Story

The Cleveland Cavaliers lead the NBA Finals. And the games remaining could forever change the story of the NBA’s best player.

Novelists don’t pen the richest narratives, nor are they authored by the platitudes sportswriters pound into their keyboards every night. The most powerful stories tug at our humanity because their truth is more compelling than fiction and their raw vulnerability exceeds any generalization. These are the comeback stories, the underdog tales of valor against insurmountable odds. Of setbacks and perseverance; of courage and the will to fight. Stories where the road to survival cuts a curved path through darkness wrought by unrelenting desperation. These are the stories of sacrifice. Heroes. And redemption. For a city.

And a man.

LeBron James is a drama queen and a crybaby. He seeks glory and craves adulation. He uses personal pronouns with such frequency when describing his role as a basketball player and self-professed leader that it’s tempting to forget that Me, Myself, and I aren’t the names of his teammates. LeBron has failed, many times, and in spectacular fashion. We anointed him the Chosen One at 16 and besieged his throne when he begged to rule without winning anything. We called him weak and gutless when the championship moment required the most of him and he hid in the shadows.

The Basketball Gods blessed LeBron with a combination of talents never before seen in professional sports. His body is Karl Malone. His mind is Magic Johnson. And his athleticism is Michael Jordan. Although LeBron has honed his skills to become a one-man wrecking crew capable of shooting, passing, driving, and defending his team to the cusp of greatness, everything about his accomplishments feels too easy, too ordained. Despite the clear dedication of a player who improved his footwork, learned a post-game, and crafted a jump shot, LeBron is a product of his natural gifts. Put simply, LeBron has never earned his success. It was always given to him.

Until now.

And that’s what separates the story of this NBA Finals from its predecessors.

Public perception holds that the Warriors are too deep, too talented, too full of silky shooters stringing shots through the nets for the Cavs, and their injury-depleted roster, to compete. I’ve read claims from writers that LeBron has nothing to lose and nothing to prove in this series. I’ve seen experts assert that whether Cleveland wins or loses to Golden State, LeBron’s legacy remains intact. But they’re wrong. These finals aren’t about LeBron maintaining his legacy—they are about him building a new one because LeBron, for the first time, is an underdog.

In Miami, LeBron’s two championships required determination and perseverance. But that’s not why we remember them. We remember the super team, the triumvirate of Bosh, Wade, and James. We remember the defeated player who fled Cleveland and became a champion under the umbrella held over his head by Pat Riley and Dwayne Wade.

Now, the story has changed. If Cleveland—minus two All-Stars and begging throughout each game for a new unsung hero to rise—wins the title this year, the Cavs won’t be remembered for choreographing a ballet on the hardwood. They’ll be remembered for their grit and their toughness and their heart. They’ll be remembered for what they earned. And nobody will have earned more than LeBron James. This is LeBron’s chance to write a new script, to flip his story forever.

The most powerful scene in the movie The Sandlot is a dream sequence that ends with an imagined Babe Ruth testing a would be hero to be greater than he believes he can. “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. Follow your heart, kid, and you’ll never go wrong.” Maybe, that is this series for LeBron James—a test if he has a heart greater than the collective force of an NBA juggernaut. This series isn’t a test of LeBron’s jump shot or dribble drives or pinpoint passing. It’s a test to see if he can sacrifice himself for 50 of a game’s 53 minutes, in the NBA’s most hostile environment, endure missing 17 of his final 21 shots, and still lift his team to a win. This is a test to be not just a hero, but a legend.

LeBron knows this, too.

 

His face bore the strain of blown opportunities when his lefty layup rolled off the rim in regulation in Game 2. We saw the resolution stamped on him when the clock clicked to all zeroes and he spiked his emotions and unleashed his primordial scream. That scream was borne of the desperation – and temporary satisfaction – of a player trying to ascend to heights we’ve never witnessed. LeBron understands the stakes. His talents will only carry the Cavs so far in this series. To win, he has to have the heart to be a force greater than his individual talents. He needs to inspire his teammates to new heights by absorbing every blow the Warriors can throw at him, remaining on his feet, and begging Golden State to have the heart to stand in front of him and be willing to sacrifice everything themselves. This series is a real fight. And one the Cavs, led by LeBron, are going to bring at Golden State for every second remaining in these finals.

The Cavs season is stranger than fiction. From LeBron’s triumphant return to the early season tumbles that led to rumblings of ineptitude and dispirited play. To a mid-season trade that rescued the season and the playoff injuries that threaten to derail it. Now, a team of cast-offs and who are these players, stands even with the NBA’s most dynamic team. Doggedness and resolve versus offensive wizardry and effervescence. LeBron and the Cavs are underdogs with no chance to win, except they are two home victories away from winning the NBA Finals.

You could never make this story up. Because this is the story of heroes.

And maybe a legend.

What Chris Borland’s Retirement Means for Football

This Friday, I am participating in a symposium presented by Cleveland-Marshall College of Law on “The Social, Ethical, and Legal Consequences of Sports-Related Brain Injuries.” The discussion features a range of legal, academic, and athletic experts covering a diverse set of issues relating to this subject.

JLHMy father, College Football Hall of Fame running back Rob Lytle, died at 56-years old in November 2010. He suffered double-digit concussions during his career and was diagnosed posthumously with moderate to severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The doctors who conducted the autopsy stated they were shocked he could still work and manage on his own given the advanced state of CTE present in his brain. My talk will draw on my experiences with my father to present an intimate look at life after football, the ugly consequences of an all-consuming devotion to a violent sport, and CTE in real-life. Some stories I covered in To Dad, From Kelly while others are new.

This topic seems especially relevant this week after the bombshell announcement from San Francisco 49ers star linebacker Chris Borland, who retired from football after one professional season over concerns regarding football’s risks and the quality of life he might experience if he continued to play. “I just want to live a long healthy life, and I don’t want to have any neurological diseases or die younger than I would otherwise,” Borland told ESPN’s Outside the Lines.

Borland’s decision incites a terrifying thought. Football is the undisputed king of sports in America. It’s also a killer. So what?

*** (more…)

Valentine’s Day with Priscila and 2Pac

Last Saturday was Valentine’s Day. To celebrate, Tupac and I wrote a love poem to my Valentine, Priscila.

Dear Priscila

When I was trying to sleep me and Priscila had beef
33 years old, girl wouldn’t let me sleep a wink
Though right from the first time I saw a smile light up her face
Ain’t a woman alive that could take Priscila’s place
Suspended from work, scared to go home I was a fool
With the big boys breaking all the rules
I’ve shed tears with my Mormon lover
Over the years we’ve laughed more than all the other kids
And even though she’s got many daddy’s, the same drama
When things go wrong she’ll never blame Obama
I reminisce on the stress she’s caused, it is hell
Trying to wake Priscila without having to yell
And who’d think at Prosperity?
Heey! I see her lookin so lovely, one day
And wearing pink pants at the solstice, that’s right
Priscila couldn’t stop staring at my backside
And even as a Cabernet fiend, Priscila
You always was the Brazilian queen, Priscila
I finally understand for a woman it ain’t easy trying to love a man
You always been committed
A loan-laden over-worked lawyer, tell me how ya did it
There’s no way I can pay you back
But my plan is to show you that I understand
Priscila, you are appreciated

Why a Gay Games Silver Medal Matters to Me

“Runners to your marks,” the man with the pistol dangling from his right hand called.

I stared at the finish line 100 meters in the distance. My hands twitched, and my legs quaked. Searing pain ignited in my left heel and burst through my leg. Nervousness had replaced oxygen in the air, and anxiety filled my lungs with each breath. I pictured the race’s end—myself versus my opponents—and thought: I’m 31 years old, haven’t sprinted in over 10 years, my stomach is rolling over my running shorts, and I’m not gay. What am I doing in the finals of the 100-meter dash at the Gay Games?

Four days later, I stood with athletes from around the world and celebrated the closing ceremonies of Gay Games 9 in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland had transformed itself into the world capital for the LGBT community as the Games’ host city, and thousands of athletes and supporters from around the world came to Cleveland to promote equality through an inclusive celebration of sport. During the closing ceremonies, I joined other participants as we held our hands over our hearts and sang along with a gospel rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. Good vibrations rattled through the crowd, which held a carnival-like energy. A smile creased my lips and tears slipped from my eyes. The silver medal I had won hung from around my neck. I was proud of the Games, proud of Cleveland, and proud of myself for participating.

(more…)

LeBron, Irrationality, and Why Sports Matter

I consider myself somewhat intelligent and, if not worldly, at least interested. I graduated from Princeton, worked on Wall Street during the financial meltdown, spent a year working NFL salary caps, volunteered in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, drank Miller High Life’s until 3 a.m. with an 80-year old blues singer sporting a slick straw hat, worked in AIDS shelters, and just finished writing a book. I might be excitable and grumpy when life’s interruptions bust my routines, but I’m typically reasonable. Yet today I’m exhilarated, ecstatic, and elated because LeBron James – someone I’ve never met and will never know – has returned to Cleveland.

LeBron has no influence over my beliefs or values. LeBron doesn’t affect my capacity for giving or willingness to serve others. These virtues, the ones that hold real worth, are my own. Still, I choked back tears reading LeBron’s letter and I’ve watched a roundup of “I’m Coming Home” videos.

.

Today, I am irrationally happy.

And this joy is what makes sports great. This feeling is why sports matter.

Sports matter because they don’t make sense, because we can’t always explain them. Sports stir exuberance and elicit impossible heartache. They offer a distraction, an escape, and a way for men to express the emotions our fragile masculine ethos might otherwise not permit.

Sports unify; they connect; they strengthen bonds – like the inseparable one forged between a father most comfortable preaching from the pulpit of the playing field and a son who won’t forget the lessons in sacrifice and commitment he learned from his dad during those game day sermons.

Sports matter because, in our oft-individualized society, they let us feel the pleasure of belonging to a team. Sports rekindle our dreams and ignite our memories of wanting to be like Mike on the starry playgrounds of adolescence. Sports let grown men become kids again.

Sports matter because they give us hope – hope that a player, team, city, and region will raise not just a banner declaring us champions, but that our work will inspire positive change along the way.

I will wake up tomorrow morning and drink my coffee, attend my niece’s birthday party, and relax with a good book. My routines will not change – not tomorrow, the next day, or any day in the future.

But my step will have more bounce, my cackle will pack more punch, and my smile will have more sparkle because LeBron said yes to Cleveland.

My emotions aren’t rational, and my enthusiasm might be silly. But today reminded me why sports mater.

That makes me happy.

What Do You Remember

A curious thing happened last week when The Dave Matthews Band song Say Goodbye played on one of my Spotify playlists. Now, before anyone mocks the song, (or my general taste in music on Spotify) I do have a point to make.

As the intro played, I remembered all the times I heard that song and every other DMB song in late high school and college (and if I’m being honest a little after college). I said to myself, this intro lasts 1 minute and 22 seconds before Dave sings. Turns out, I was wrong.

The musical intro lasts 1 minute and 25 seconds – not a shabby memory considering the years and beers that have passed since I paid attention to this tune.

This moment then made me think about the other things I can remember with unusual detail.

For instance, I know I saw a ~7:30 showing of Rudy in Fremont’s Paramount Cinemas on November 20, 1993. I wore navy wind pants with a large Michigan block “M” on the left leg, a navy Michigan #21 jersey, and a white Michigan undershirt. Why? Because earlier that day my Grandpa, Dad, and I traveled to Ann Arbor, sat in Section 43 of Michigan Stadium, and watched the Wolverines upset the #5 Ohio State Buckeyes 28-0. We returned home in time to catch the end of Boston College’s stunning victory over then #1 Notre Dame before Mom, Dad, and I went to the movie.

Oh, Glenn Foley was the quarterback of that Boston College team. Notre Dame’s was Kevin McDougal.

Not enough? Well, in winter 1993, I learned this quote by George Washington Carver: “Take what you have, make the most of it, and never be satisfied.” I scribbled it on a napkin and kept it in my desk drawer for many years. I can also tell you that I learned the quote during a speech at my church by former Bowling Green State University coach Gary Blackney, sat at a long, rectangular table just left of the center of the stage, and they served steamed carrots as part of the meal. That was the first time I ever ate carrots prepared that way.

The first time I saw My Girl was on December 19, 1992. I watched the game alone in my basement while flipping the channel between the movie and the Fab Five’s basketball game versus Iowa State. My sister had three friends over and at some point I played the game Mall Madness with them. This is all true.

I find this fascinating because besides the day I first watched Rudy, the other memories are not extraordinary. In fact, they are completely unremarkable moments that should melt into all the other memories of my youth. For some reason, though, I’ll never forget them.

It occurs to me that it’s impossible to anticipate the moments that stick in our brain – the moments that form who we are. We have no idea what words will leave a lasting impression on our children or our students. Just like we never know if a compliment, thank you, or offer to help will leave a positive impression with our friends and family long after the occasion itself passes. Who knows, maybe a joke or a laugh given to a stranger while waiting in line for coffee is exactly what he or she needs to have a better day?

Although we can’t choose if, or when, others will remember our actions, we can choose how they’ll remember them. By treating others with respect and kindness, fairness and appreciation, we can ensure that the memories that do last are ones that will make us proud.

I read this thing…January 2

I suppose I’ve always done my share of crying, especially when there’s no other way to contain my feelings. I know that men ain’t supposed to cry, but I think that’s wrong. Crying’s always been a way for me to get things out which are buried deep, deep down. When I sing, I often cry. Crying is feeling, and feeling is being human. Oh yes, I cry.

Ray Charles, in Brother Ray

I cry. Anyone that knows me knows this. I’ve written of the value of crying in this blog, too. At the risk of sounding trite, a day spent engulfed in the embrace of emotions experienced to their fullest is a day worth smiling about when our heads rest on the pillow to sleep.  To me, tears represent that threshold when we relinquish ourselves so completely to the passion of a moment that we have only one outlet for what we feel.

Tears are joyful and they’re sad. Tears are frustrating and they’re reassuring. Tears can bind us to others  and they can uplift. As Ray said, “crying is feeling, and feeling is human.”

Oh my.

Jason Silva’s Existential Bummer

.

Do we love longer and hold tighter? Do we embrace more passionately and cry vulnerably, sitting in the open exposed and raw for others to see.

Do we mean it when we ask “how are you?” or “what can I do to help?”

Do we care deeply and give whole-heartedly?

Or do we run? Away from what could hurt or could cause pain or could cause suffering?

The choice, to me, is simple and it’s ours to make.

It Don’t Cost Nothing to be Nice – A Bear Bryant Story

I write regularly about moments and how seemingly ordinary occurrences can cause waves that ripple into lives beyond our own. We never know when or how or even if any one moment will leave a lasting impression that changes the course of someone’s day or inspires a positive change in a life. No on/ off switch exists that lets us choose the moments we want others to remember. They just happen and they often occur without expectation or realization.

What we can control, though, is how we treat others. Are we respectful? Are we kind? Do we care about what others have to say or are we preoccupied with our own thoughts and agendas? Have we valued another’s importance as a friend? Have we offered to help and genuinely meant it? We can control the answers to these questions, and, I believe, it’s how these questions are answered that determine if we can create moments that echo in other’s hearts and minds.

A good friend sent me a story last week. He expected that I would appreciate it. He was right.

In the story, legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant touched a life in a simple conversation over lunch at a small diner. The Bear was a tough as nails football coach, a strict disciplinarian who demanded the most from his players – and then asked them to give even more. In this moment, he also showed he could care more than anyone expected. By doing so, he cut an impression that resounded in ways he could have never imagined.

It Don’t Cost Nothing to be Nice – A Bear Bryant Story

I had just been named the new head coach at Alabama and was off in my old car down in South Alabama recruiting a prospect who was supposed to have been a pretty good player, and I was having trouble finding the place. Getting hungry, I spied an old cinderblock building with a small sign out front that simply said “Restaurant.”

I pull up, go in, and every head in the place turns to stare at me. Seems I’m the only white fella in the place. But the food smelled good, so I skip a table and go up to a cement bar and sit. A big ole man in a tee shirt and cap comes over and says, “What do you need?”

I told him I needed lunch and what did they have today?

He says, “You probably won’t like it here. Today we’re having chitlins, collard greens and black-eyed peas with cornbread.

I’ll bet you don’t even know what chitlins are, do you?”

I looked him square in the eye and said, “I’m from Arkansas, and I’ve probably eaten a mile of them. Sounds like I’m in the right place.”

They all smiled as he left to serve me up a big plate. When he comes back he says, “You ain’t from around here then?”

I explain I’m the new football coach up in Tuscaloosa at the University and I’m here to find whatever that boy’s name was, and he says, “Yeah I’ve heard of him, he’s supposed to be pretty good.” And he gives me directions to the school so I can meet him and his coach.
As I’m paying up to leave, I remember my manners and leave a tip, not too big to be flashy, but a good one, and he told me lunch was on him, but I told him for a lunch that good, I felt I should pay. The big man asked me if I had a photograph or something he could hang up to show I’d been there. I was so new that I didn’t have any yet. It really wasn’t that big a thing back then to be asked for, but I took a napkin and wrote his name and address on it and told him I’d get him one.

I met the kid I was looking for later that afternoon and I don’t remember his name, but do remember I didn’t think much of him when I met him. I had wasted a day, or so I thought. When I got back to Tuscaloosa late that night, I took that napkin from my shirt pocket and put it under my keys so I wouldn’t forget it. Back then I was excited that anybody would want a picture of me. The next day we found a picture and I wrote on it, “Thanks for the best lunch I’ve ever had.”

Now let’s go a whole buncha years down the road. Now we have black players at Alabama and I’m back down in that part of the country scouting an offensive lineman we sure needed. Y’all remember, (and I forget the name, but it’s not important to the story), well anyway, he’s got two friends going to Auburn and he tells me he’s got his heart set on Auburn too, so I leave empty handed and go on to see some others while I’m down there.

Two days later, I’m in my office in Tuscaloosa and the phone rings and it’s this kid who just turned me down, and he says, “Coach, do you still want me at Alabama ?”

And I said, “Yes, I sure do.” And he says OK, he’ll come.

And I say, “Well son, what changed your mind?”

And he said, “When my grandpa found out that I had a chance to play for you and said no, he pitched a fit and told me I wasn’t going nowhere but Alabama, and wasn’t playing for nobody but you. He thinks a lot of you and has ever since y’all met.”

Well, I didn’t know his granddad from Adam’s housecat so I asked him who his granddaddy was and he said, “You probably don’t remember him, but you ate in his restaurant your first year at Alabama and you sent him a picture that he’s had hung in that place ever since. That picture’s his pride and joy and he still tells everybody about the day that Bear Bryant came in and had chitlins with him…”

“My grandpa said that when you left there, he never expected you to remember him or to send him that picture, but you kept your word to him and to Grandpa, that’s everything. He said you could teach me more than football and I had to play for a man like you, so I guess I’m going to.”

I was floored. But I learned that the lessons my mama taught me were always right. It don’t cost nuthin’ to be nice. It don’t cost nuthin’ to do the right thing most of the time, and it costs a lot to lose your good name by breaking your word to someone. When I went back to sign that boy, I looked up his Grandpa and he’s still running that place, but it looks a lot better now. And he didn’t have chitlins that day, but he had some ribs that would make Dreamland proud. I made sure I posed for a lot of pictures; and don’t think I didn’t leave some new ones for him, too, along with a signed football.

I made it clear to all my assistants to keep this story and these lessons in mind when they’re out on the road. If you remember anything else from me, remember this. It really doesn’t cost anything to be nice, and the rewards can be unimaginable.

Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant

Be a Kid Again

Anyone that knows me understands I’m a sucker for nostalgia. It’s possible that my life peaked between 9 and 12 years old, when my summer days, after school hours, and weekend adventures consisted of backyard wiffleball games, 2 on 2 football battles played on a field with end zones marked by a concrete sidewalk and short set of stairs, softball games played against a setting, summer sun, and hours of idle conversation about things that might not have mattered but counted for so much.

While writing this morning, my mind drifted into a space where hundreds of memories merged into one and pleasant chills crawled along my skin.  As Ray Charles played in the background, the genius’s voice lurched into America the Beautiful and carried me deeper into the pockets of perfection I’d crafted around remembrances and feelings that may or may not be entirely accurate. For a 31-year-old kid who finds the ball fields of his younger days as some of the most beautiful, inspiring, and memorable temples on Earth, this song elicits images of a single scene from one of those movies that defined the summer days of many men around my age (the 2:20 mark in the below video).

Today, steal 20 minutes from your usual routine. Spend 10 of those enjoying The Sandlot clip. And spend the next 10 remembering something real, something specific, from days spent with best friends many years ago. Mine is a bunch of 10-year old Midwest boys, their faces caked with dirt, their OSU and Michigan sweatpants partially torn and dripping with mud, and their bodies taxed from 3 hours of backyard football. One of the old Lytle Dalmatians is darting somewhere in the distance, tongue-wagging and rummaging through garbage.

Simple memories like these make me happy.

A Strange Brand of Happy

A wandering bachelor. Career quandaries. The search for oneself. The hope for love. All wrapped into a movie.

Strange Brand of HappyWell, now, that sounds like something I want to see. Thanks to some smart, creative friends – friends who share a passion for finding magic in the stories people can share – we now have the chance to do just that starting Friday.

A Strange Brand of Happy is the story of an aimless bachelor who loses his job and finds himself chasing the same girl as his manipulative boss. (eeee!)

It opens in theaters this Friday (September 13) and is showing at the Atlas Eastgate Theater in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, for all you Clevelanders!

The details of the story are good ones.

David’s life is a mess. His job is gone and his purpose is missing. The possibility of finding love is a mystery entirely unsolvable. David needs help. He needs to get his life unstuck. Love needs to find him. Somewhere, somehow, and with someone.

When things finally turn up for David, just when he starts to see the light in the tunnel, a problem ensues: The girl of his dreams, who happens to be the life coach helping him get on the right track, is also being pursued by his manipulative ex-boss.

Oh, life, you are a devil. How you tease men with the temptation of delight.

Will David find himself? Will he win the heart of the girl he fancies? Will fighting his ex-boss for love destroy his chance of finding it? And what in the world is he to make of the make-you-think wisdom spewing from the ragtag crew of men and women living at the retirement home where he volunteers?

Life doesn’t promise anything easy for David. Maybe, though, with the help of inspiration as seen through the old eyes of his new friends, and a fresh perspective on the world around him, things might work out for David all.

A Strange Brand of Happy is a movie about love, hope, and unlocking one’s dreams. It’s a reminder that discovering what motivates and inspires you is a journey – and one that takes hard work and friends to realize. Finding yourself does take a search party. It also makes for one hell of a fun story.

A Strange Brand of Happy opens this Friday at the Atlas Eastgate Theater in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.

I have a few free tickets available. If you want one, drop me a line and I’ll deliver!

For those interested, I’ll be attending on Sunday afternoon. Come enjoy and spend the day with me watching a beautiful film!

Congratulations, by the Way

Writer George Saunders delivered a commencement address at Syracuse University this past spring urging us towards kindness.  Chances are you’ve read it already, or someone has at least shared it with you as the speech tours social media and flies in and out of work emails. Random House plans to publish Congratulations, by the Way next year, similar to This is Water by David Foster Wallace.

During his speech, Saunders says that “although it’s a little corny, and don’t quite know what to do with it: ‘What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.’ The words resonate because, as David Ulin writes, “we’ve all been there.”

I know my failure (or one of them because if you know me well you know there are many). The image is clear, a vision more crystal than the memory of exploding convenient store glass in my parent’s Trailblazer. The moment, or moments, occurred in high school. Senior year. Lunch. I sit and eat with a pack of friends. A young kid a grade or two below me sits alone at a table. Day after day. Lunch after lunch. Alone.

Nobody mocked him. Nobody poked fun. Nobody teased. We would have had to notice him if we wanted to be jerks. And we didn’t even take that step. Or at least I didn’t, ever, not in any meaningful way. And I think about this lack of kindness, this complete and utter indifference to someone else. It eats at me, most days,

This is just one example of many regrettable actions (or in-actions) on my part. Live, learn, and improve, I suppose. It just sucks that sometimes how we learn what we learn never leaves our side.

Perfection is impossible. This is fact. But if we’re all going to screw up anyways, shouldn’t we aim to “err in the direction of kindness”?

George Saunders: Congratulations, by the Way

“Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you).

And I intend to respect that tradition.

Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time “dances,” so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?” And they’ll tell you. Sometimes, as you know, they’ll tell you even if you haven’t asked. Sometimes, even when you’ve specifically requested they not tell you, they’ll tell you.

So: What do I regret? Being poor from time to time? Not really. Working terrible jobs, like “knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?” (And don’t even ASK what that entails.) No. I don’t regret that. Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked? And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months? Not so much. Do I regret the occasional humiliation? Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl? No. I don’t even regret that.

But here’s something I do regret: (more…)

A Cup for Tomorrow

In May, I had ideas for two short stores: Why She Smokes Cigarettes and The Girl in the Purple Boots. As with most things, these stories began as internal emotions that poked and prodded at me until I finally put them into words in a story. I spilled a few gallons of red ink into multiple drafts. When I finished, and the stories reached their current form, I realized two things. First, in different ways, each is a love story. And second, coffee unites the characters and their circumstances. Hence the title of the series – What I Talk About When I Talk About Love….And Coffee.

I wrote the third story, A Cup for Tomorrow, several years ago as an experiment. It is bleak, sparse, drunk, and written in the second person. But, similar to the other two, it’s ultimately about hope for a man haunted by demons of vanished love. And coffee, of course, makes its appearance.

Three stories, of love and loss and served with a cup of coffee. What I Talk About When I Talk About Love…And Coffee mixes love with loss and hopefulness with desperation. Truths from my life and others weave through these stories, blurring the line between real life and fiction. Although each is ultimately a work of fiction, the emotions experienced are all real.

A Cup for Tomorrow is the pained, desperate day of someone who hopes for the strength to find a better tomorrow. Written in the second person, this bleak story is a dark journey with a glimmer of hope.