This has been in my notebook to write about for a while, but for obvious, or not so obvious, reasons the time seems right now.
Last year Stuart Scott, long time sports broadcaster best known for his work on ESPN, was awarded with the “Jimmy V Perseverance Award” on ESPNs annual award show, The ESPYS. At the time he received the award, Scott had been battling cancer for seven years. Scott had been in the hospital for more than a week with liver problems and kidney failure prior to him accepting the award. He doubted he would be able to be present to accept the award.
I am not writing about Scott winning the award, nor am I writing about his fight against cancer. What I’ve had on my mind for the better part of six months are the words Scott spoke in his acceptance speech. He talked a lot about his fight against cancer and how he beat it three times just to have it come back again and again. What really struck me though, was how his words apply to living life in general. It occurred to me that his words, his approach to his fight, were no different to how I feel I should be living my life.
You can watch his acceptance speech here, as no amount of quotes, elaboration, or analysis I offer will do his words justice. The words are powerful and inspirational for those battling cancer. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, what I heard and what I felt when these words hit me was how these sentiments could, and should, be applied to everyone living their everyday lives. We do not need to be battling cancer or any other terminal illness and we don’t need to be in the twilight of our lives to adopt these ideas into our daily approach.
“When you die, it doesn’t mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live.” Scott’s point about death not being the end in which you inevitably lose hit me personally. Anyone who knows me knows that I lost my grandfather to cancer at the beginning of 2012. His loss to me, and my family, is not something that can be quantified or described by mere words. Suffice to say that the impact my grandfather had on my life was a direct result from the way he lived, why he lived, and the manner in which he lived. This can never be replaced and his loss still brings me to tears as the three-year anniversary of his death approaches. I guarantee you that my grandfather did not choose to live his life the way he did because he thought he was fighting a losing battle. He lived his life this way because he was that kind of man. He won long before cancer took him from this world and he continues to win everyday as the people he touched live on. No disease, not even mortality, could defeat this man. His example, and Scott’s words hit me with the realization that none of us will ever win or lose at the finish line. We will win or lose right now with how we choose to live our lives each day. Hyman Michael Novack won. I strive every day to win. The crazy thing about this journey is that we never know when it will be over. It’s not an exam or project we can cram for the night before, just before the due date. We don’t know our due date. We must win now.
Scott went on to say, “So, live. Live! Fight like hell and when you get too tired to fight then lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you”. Again, his words refer to his fight against cancer, but the way they apply to our everyday existence is moving. I am a firm believer in the concept that it takes a village to raise a child. In this case, however, the child is all of us as we live our lives as adults and we cannot make this journey alone. In referring to his latest stay in the hospital, Scott said, “I couldn’t fight, but the doctors and nurses could. The people that I love, my friends and family, they could fight. The people I love…did what they always do. They visited. They talked to me. They listened to me. They sat silent sometimes. They loved me”. It doesn’t take much to help someone in his or her fight. As Scott pointed out, sometimes all it takes is to sit silently with someone so they know they are not alone. Other times, we are required to fight for those who can’t. Scott said, “This whole fight is not a solo venture. It is something that requires support”. Sometimes life alone is the battle, other times there will be additional factors that make the battle a little tougher. We cannot expect to get through this journey alone. We have to be willing to fight for ourselves and for others when it’s necessary and, whatever our support system is, we also must be wiling to lay down and rest and let others fight for us if we need them to.
“I called my big sister…the other day. Why? Because I needed to cry. It’s that simple.” “Come give [me] a hug, because I need one.” Scott shared these emotions to help illustrate how he uses his village of support to help in his fight. What strikes me is how necessary these emotions, and the willingness to share them, are. I’m a big, tall, former cop with a shaved head and beard. Obviously, I am a rock, a fortress of strength and confidence totally devoid of the need to cry or the desire to ask for a hug. If you truly know me, you know this is not the case. Perhaps this is what society would expect all of us to believe, assumptions based on appearance and stereotypes. I cried leaving home after Christmas, again. I spent a lot of good, quality time with my grandma and I was sad when I left her house. I hugged my dogs, cried, and told them I loved them. I called my mom to tell her I love her before I left. I gave Danielle extras hug and kisses and told her I love her multiple times at the airport. I cried twice while writing this piece. And, you know what? That’s OK. I am not a weak person because I cry. I am not a weak person because I like to hug my dogs, or because I miss my family. I find strength in hugging my dogs and in the energy they share with me. I find comfort in calling my mom before leaving on a long trip. I enjoy spending time with my grandma and sharing moments with her. I miss Danielle and the partnership her and I share. I am a stronger person, and in my opinion, a richer person for having these warriors on my side. Scott helped illustrate the need for this kind of emotional support and he helped show that it is OK to have this need and to ask for it to be fulfilled. We must be emotionally healthy to win. We must be OK with showing and sharing our emotions with one another and we must be open to allow others to be comfortable sharing with us. It is the only way to win.
A video showed Scott meeting a man who is also battling cancer. While sharing a hug and some tears with this man, Scott said, “Do what you want to do. Hang in there brother”. Later, while accepting his award, Scott also mentioned his oldest daughter who was unable to attend the presentation. Understanding his daughter’s circumstances, he told her it was OK that she wasn’t there and said, “I love you. You go do you”. I’ve written before about the importance of being able to focus on doing what it is that makes you happy. Sometimes it will be difficult. Sometimes it will go against everything that seems acceptable and wise to those around you. If we have something that we must pursue, or somewhere we must go, it’s OK. Go do you. We also must be willing to allow those around us to be themselves and pursue what it is that makes them happy, even when it doesn’t fit into our idea of what is correct or acceptable. We must allow ourselves, and those around us, to be happy and to pursue the things we are called to do. This will allow us to win and to help others win as well.
“Fighting is winning, not quitting…just laying down and crying a pity party for myself, that to me, is the only way to lose.” It is really easy for us to focus on the negative or bad things that have happened to us, or that go on around us. By focusing our attention and energy on those negative things, we are allowing the negativity to win. If we allow other things to win, we cannot win. By giving up and not fighting through the challenges we face, we allow these things, or people, to take control of our lives. We should focus on battling through the challenges and focusing on the positive things we have. It is hard, because sometimes it seems there is nothing but struggle. There is always something we can be thankful for, however, and that should be our area of focus. As long as we take control of our lives, fight, and never give up, we will win.
Finally, Scott touched on a concept that is hard to grasp in today's society. He said, “It’s not about being the best. It’s about working hard”. We may never have the best career, live in the best house, or drive the best car and that’s OK. Those are just things anyway and, in the end, they don’t really matter. We may not always be the most successful and we most certainly will fail. That is a part of life. Success is a hard thing to measure, as it often times means different things to different people. And, so, being the best is a hard thing to measure. As long as we continue to work hard and strive to be better, we will always be right where we are supposed to be.
A while back, I started using a phrase I made up when talking to Danielle. I haven’t used it for a while, but I think I’ll start again. Instead of telling Danielle to have a good day, I started encouraging her to have a better day. The idea was simple. If we could focus on working to improve each and every day, the negative stuff and difficulties of yesterday could not linger. Additionally, we could improve on the good things already happening in our lives. It might have gone like this:
“How was your day yesterday?”
“Not so good. I (insert difficulty, illness, or problem here) today.”
“I’m sorry. I hope you have a better day today.”
It could also go like this:
“How was your day yesterday?”
“It was good. I (insert success or good feeling here).”
“Great! I hope you have an even better day today.”
Instead of just wishing someone a good day, we can encourage each other to have a better day. No matter what yesterday looked like, we can always have a better day today. Instead of saying, “Have a good day”, I say, “Have a better day”.
I had gone away from this for whatever reason. Scott’s quotes and outlook on life helped me remember a few things:
- Work hard and never give up on yourself, your dreams, or others. Support one another when they ask for it and be willing to ask for it when you need it.
- Allow yourself to feel. Don’t be afraid to share your emotions with others, or allow them to share theirs with you.
- Stay true to yourself and follow your dreams, wherever they may take you.
- Fight like hell and win every day.
We owe it ourselves, and to each other, to fight like hell and win everyday. We may be fighting for ourselves, or we may be fighting for others who are unable or too tired to fight. Either way, we should fight, win, and have a better day, everyday.
PS - Stuart Scott died today at the age of 49. He won a long time ago.