Propped up in my cousin’s casket were two baseball cards—Brad Lidge and Dave Hollins, if you are a sports fan. Sean had forgone the typical burial suit and chose instead to wear a gray Phillies hoodie.
Much to my regret, I didn’t know my cousin well. In retrospect, his life had many parallels to my own. Only about a hundred days separated our births. He studied journalism in college, and started his own business. He was a dad. And he was an avid sports fan.
After he was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, he wrote a powerful essay about Cindy Stowell, the “Jeopardy” champion who competed in 2016 while she was dying from cancer, and how the disease, and her example had affected his life. He wrote:
“Now, instead of saying, ‘It would be cool to get together sometime and grab a bite to eat,’ to an old friend and then never setting anything up, I’ll do my level best to schedule something concrete, to make it happen.”
Later in the essay, he wrote this:
“Unplug often, go fishing, listen more closely, slow down, embrace and enjoy your family, and go to a big sports event or concert (and, for the love of God, if it’s Justin Bieber, please take my daughter Sarah along so that I don’t have to).”
For various reasons, I stopped watching football about 10 years ago. It was partly due to a long-distance romance that necessitated weekend visits, but also to a growing awareness to how much time I was devoting of my finite life to sports. (As a baseball fan, it’s still considerable.)
After I had weaned myself off of my gridiron devotion, the stories about player concussions were emerging. I was glad not to feel a personal, moral tug while watching a diversion I had enjoyed.
But as the Eagles kept winning, I was thinking about Sean’s words, and a good friend of mine who moved away from Philly 10 years ago. We still work together, so we keep in touch by phone regularly, but there was a time when we were practically inseparable. We watched all meaningful—and many meaningless—Philadelphia sports games together.
And so, on Super Bowl Sunday, I boarded an Amtrak train to leave this delirious city to go to a Philly sports bar in… Manassas, Virginia. The game was ridiculously fun, and if you didn’t hear, the Eagles won. We hugged each other, and all our fellow long-suffering fans in the bar. What a moment.
Just weeks before, while at the graveyard where Sean was being buried, an eagle was spotted circling overhead. He would have loved that, someone said. And I’m sure that’s true, for the sports symbolism and for the eagle itself. When Sean was sick, he immersed himself in nature and photography. He wrote, “I’ve relied heavily on the therapeutic effects of nature’s amazing beauty to help me in my fight.”
I’m reading a fascinating book right now by Tim Wu about the history of propaganda, media and advertising called “The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads.” In it, Wu writes: “As William James observed, we must reflect that, when we reach the end of our days, our life experience will equal what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or default.”
That’s the challenge: to live intentionally, even when we think time is on our side. Thank you, Sean, for the good advice. I’ll do my best to follow it.