“I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I’ve been closer to him for that reason.” Elie Wiesel
(I saw a documentary today about Coach Valvano and it seemed more than appropriate to re-post these thoughts I shared before about this marvelous man and his legacy.)
“When you have a dream and you love each other and keep believing in a dream, you can accomplish miracles!” – Jim Valvano talking about the 1983 North Carolina Championship Basketball Team
It’s no secret that I’m a diehard fan of Coach “V” as one would surmise from my repeated use of the quotes from and references to him. Maybe one would think it’s because I was witness to the sports miracle that was accomplished when he led his 1983 NC State basketball team on the most unlikely and magical run to the NCAA tournament finals where they upset a vastly more talented Houston team (two future NBA hall of gamers) in the greatest upset in tournament history.
Now come on, it’s just sports which certainly produces so many amazing storylines and admittedly, this one is certainly more memorable by how it remains as part of our sport’s culture to this day as an inspiration to underdogs and afterthoughts in not just sports, but all areas of society. But sports moments are just that, snapshots of a particular portal of competitive endeavors that we get reminded of, generally when the appropriate circumstances warrants its introduction into our psyche in some manner and degree.
Still in its overall affect, did it inspire me to change the way I approach life? Well, I am certain it did in the lessons I’ve used to guide and motivate my children when challenged and by extension, what I’m authoring now. Or, did it help to improve the treatment of something like cancer for countless patients afflicted with the disease? Well we know it did by the growth and contributions of the “Jimmy V Foundation” that he created after his life was ruthlessly assaulted, and before it was taken, by cancer. But here’s what has to be recognized: had that 1983 sports storyline not been created, it’s likely the birth of the “legend” and fame of “Coach V” would not have emerged to give birth to his organization when it was established and its astronautical growth thereafter. That foundation came about too late to save his life or my parents lives, but in a miraculous twist to his legacy, the byproduct of its research and the evolution of cancer treatment saved his daughter’s life when she was diagnosed with breast cancer years later.
I ponder this quote by Thurl Bailey, a player from that 1983 team, in reflecting back on his former coach as one of the most beautiful expressions of praise that any man could ever hope to be described or remembered for by those who reflect upon their knowledge of that existence. “Everything he accomplished and everything he was as a person is the essence of the man!”. If only I should be so fortunate to be honored with similar accounting of my days here in my particular universe but hey, I’m still making a conscious effort and I’m constantly an evolving work in progress.
So in my mind it’s about the collective and enduring power of the man who turned out to be more than just a basketball coach beyond that victory in 1983. It’s exponentially about his words, the way he lived, the people he touched and inspired, and his final acts before he died that profoundly separated himself to be among the upper echelon of immensely extraordinary humans that I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.
Now back to “Coach V’s” influence; you have to remember that he was diagnosed with terminal cancer leading to an abundance of tumors that spread throughout his body but still his final goal remained to his dying day, as reflected in a note he wrote to himself that was accidentally found by his wife in the pocket of his dry cleaning was, to “beat cancer”! He did that, maybe not in his own individual quest but for the thousands of others he impacted through the man he was, whose lives he affected during his lifetime, and whose lives he SAVED through the work of the “V Foundation” including his daughter as noted above. I mean it’s one thing to give birth to a child but what greater accomplishment can be achieved by a parent than being personally responsible for saving his/her physical life and in a way, gifting them with another?
What a legacy (or maybe that’s just me)! I can say I was blessed to watch that championship game and the ones that were televised during that magical run when I was so much younger and not insulated from its impact, due to the abundance of information available these days that leads to an overindulgence of stimulation that can negate our awareness of what’s happening right in front of our eyes. But goodness gracious sakes alive, I’m so much older and I needed someone like “Coach V” back then and still need my memory of him morphing into something greater than that one tournament to keep my eyes on the prizes that continue to happen in front of these eyes! Otherwise I might have gone crazy or emotionally diluted by too many of the things introduced in my life that could have overwhelmed that vision.
I may f’ing hate cancer for taking both my parents but my hope and faith in life’s possibilities, probabilities, and likelihoods is still strong by how they fought it, and through “Coach V’s” efforts that have carried on well beyond each of their passings, because I’m still here to better my existence to honor them. It’s because of my hope and faith in most things that I still battle to garner every ounce I can from the things that feed my optimism for each day I have been given while I step over or around the pratfalls that produce disillusion and negativity because, they too often introduce themselves to try to steal life’s basic, simple, elegance that I choose to believe in.
So God gave me another day to persevere in how I want to live it and I thank Him because it allows me to build on “the essence of the man” I want to be. A work in progress? Yep, but my destiny at least has a better direction from those that have and continue to inspire me like my parents, “Coach V”, and anyone who makes a contribution towards whatever remarkable conclusion I systematically strive to achieve.
So I’ll end with one last quote because it’s a favorite and one I use as a reminder of how I want to see what’s ahead of me: “We will never have a perfect world, but it’s not romantic or naive to work toward a better one.” – Steven Pinker
“That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well.” – Abraham Lincoln
On this day 506 years ago, Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel were revealed by the Pope.
Now I don’t expect something even close to that magnificent masterpiece of human creation by the legendary artist but I hope it inspires you to do something of simple greatness of your own design today. I mean if he could paint and bring something so beautiful into existence while in the most uncomfortable positions for @ 5 years, it would seem it should be simple for you to add something positive in not only your, but other’s own lives.
If you can’t think of something new to achieve, just do something extraordinary with one thing that you do on a daily basis. In many ways, there’s a simple magnificence to doing purposeful things which you can be proud of but as usual, that’s just me thinking again for you guys but why not give it a try!😘
After watching my dad love me, I hoped one day I’d love my own child too;
When I asked for a child, He decided to give me two;
When I held my sons the first time, I still can’t hold them enough;
I once helped them take their first steps, now they’re faster than me;
When I prayed they’d be healthy, the Lord decided to make them athletes too;
I prayed that they’d be safe, now they stick up for others;
I wanted them to be kind, and now they’re full of compassion;
I hoped that they’d listen to me, now I listen to them;
I shared with them my thoughts, now they think for themselves;
I gave them my best guidance, now they’ve learned to lead others;
I’ve taught them about life, now they know how beautiful it can be;
They’ve changed the world I lived in, now they’re changing their own;
I’ve seen them grow older every day, now it seems they’ve grown up too fast;
And though they know I love them, I doubt they’ll ever know how much;
I was able to give them life, they were able to give me the best of everything;
I see why I wanted to be like my dad, I only wished he was here to see how I did;
I’ve been blessed with two sons, but the miracle was the father they made me;
God rewarded my wish to be a dad like mine, and I know one day my sons will be even better ones. – Joe Dico
(I wrote the following about Christian almost exactly four years ago when he was 13 years-old and seemed worth revisiting on his birthday. Now as he turns 17 and one year away from starting his baseball career at the University of Washington, it almost seems too profetic after I saw what was emerging from him way back when this dream seemed so far down the road!
“Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose … not the one you began with perhaps, but one you’ll be glad to remember.”
Failure doesn’t occur until the moment you stop trying. Even worse is if you never risk making any attempt or effort at all because it may damage what is only our ego and/or vanity – sadly that only means we’re too timid to test our courage and determination. Such a mindset is the most tragic because it serves as a better measure of our character and future direction but then again, if there was never an attempt for success, there’s no failure to compare it to and I suppose there’s a false security in that for those who choose such an approach.
I guess for many people, there’s some safety and resulting comfort in never exploring beyond the limited aspirations they’ve set forth because there’s too much uncertainty in the unknown. That’s probably a blissful and comfortable existence but for me, I just have an overwhelming desire to satisfy my curiosity, especially about things that challenge the fulfillment of what I want.
As I often do, I look back at everything good and bad that’s occurred in my life and the one essential part of the equation leading to the results of all those things has been one ingredient – ME. Did you know in high school I only applied to one college, USC, and that was for a couple of reasons. It’s the only place I wanted to go and, my family didn’t have a lot of money for me to fill out too many college applications. My grades were decent but I’m pretty sure I was accepted because I wrote a “kick-ass” application letter about why they should accept me and as you know, they did. However countering that, I also thought I’d be in love forever so that among other things canceled out my plans for USC at the time with the hope I would go there at a later time. Interesting choice on my part at the time and we all know where that thought led me but then again, I would not have found Mom and I have no regrets about the alternative outcome.
I also wanted to go to law school and while there, I honestly wasn’t at the top of my class because I knew the real prize was the bar exam and balancing working full-time, a (very) active social life, and a girlfriend who would be my wife, stretched my resources rather thin during the four years I was there. However after graduating, that’s when I shifted gears to study for the exam and passed it the first time around when 60-70% of others didn’t with some never passing even after multiple attempts. To this day I’m not sure how that happened because as I’ve mentioned before, I found out that my father had terminal cancer the night before the exam began and it would have been understandable had I been too distracted to pass. Maybe divine intervention since he passed a month afterward or I was lucky but then again, I doubt it!
The next major goal occurred after Jason was born. I was determined to invest in being a decent Dad while choosing a profession that challenges that intention so I looked for a job close to home, even though the best jobs were in LA and OC. I didn’t know “squat” about South Bay law firms but sent about 20 letters and resumes to the most interesting ones and I guess based on the way it was written, my future boss called me and after what I assume was an impressive enough interview to BS my way into getting hired, got a job at one of the best firms in So Cal, and later became a partner which is supposed to be every lawyers dream. It was not as big of a deal after a while but at least I did it which few could say. And I got to be a bigger part of not only Jason’s life but thankfully, yours! Maybe I was lucky but doubt it!
Christian, we’re alike in so many ways and maybe it’s in large part due to the time we’ve spent together since my injury and there is no precise value that could measure how grateful I am about the moments that has led us to the relationship that we now share. Some people are afraid to walk beyond what they can see because of fear of the unknown. Me, I just have to know and then respond accordingly and I see you building your confidence each day that reflects a similar approach.
Some don’t want to run in bare feet on a gravel path towards the places they want to get to because they’re afraid of falling, the cuts and bruises they’ll suffer, the dirt, etc. That’s just not a justifiable reason for me not to get there. I carry the bloodstains and scratches like a badge of honor because it means I didn’t give up even though things weren’t as smooth as I hoped for and made me more confident about the next journey ahead. I guess it’s just not within us to quit or sit still when there’s something that we feel is worth having.
It took a tortuous path that led to my injury but I guess it was just me testing a different kind of curiosity but so began a different journey that I mapped out. Was everything as smooth as I hoped for – of course not but at least I didn’t just imagine what was out there because I had to find out. I like obstacles because I enjoy the challenge of overcoming them, especially when I know the rarity of others being able to do it. Even just falling short doesn’t feel as disappointing if I at least exhausted all I had for things to result the way they did and in the end, I took something from it.
What’s pretty cool is that even though I had varying amounts of support (sometimes not a lot compared to you), all of the above were accomplished because of ME and I needed no greater incentive than what I created and demanded. Ownership of my life without excuses has made it easier to accept my shortcomings (along with accomplishments) without deflecting responsibility.
If something can’t be done, make sure that you are the one to determine what it is, with every avenue explored to make that determination. Remember that those who say you can’t do something generally never had the courage or confidence to try themselves, or just stopped pushing themselves without realizing how close they were had they kept trying a few more times. When you do it, they’ll probably say you were lucky but I doubt it since you’re already showing that you understand that there is little reason for doubt when it comes to YOU!
“In reflecting on the times of my life, it occurs to me that the difficult, arduous experiences always pass, or at least wane to a tolerable level. On the other hand, thankfully, the positive, uplifting aspects of my life journey seem to hold strong and steady throughout, as long as I appreciate and nurture them.” – David L. Weatherford
So here’s what I’ve learned and better understand about all that has happened in my life. All those times that I once thought were one of the worst times in my life eventually just became parts of it and nowhere near the calamities and catastrophes I though they were. It just seems that the natural evolution of time provides a resolution for the past and better context for the future.
The difficulties in our lives certainly have an impact on it and the quality in how we will continue to live it afterwards. Part of that is dependent on how we continue to perceive those difficulties and how long we allow them to exercise control over every day that occurs after them. To me it seems we have to forge a relationship between the acceptance of what has occurred and that in time, the eventuality they will fade in the background and reside in the past where they belong. I’m not saying they should be forgotten because that’s not realistic but as I’ve said before, “don’t give light to the past”, when we should remain resolute to working with the hope and promise of better days ahead of us because they are truly out their. Their visibility is entirely dependent on whether our eyes and mind process what is in front of us and not hampered by that which cannot be changed.
Here is a personal example. Both my parents died 20 years ago within the span of 10 months. I’m still not sure which was more painful; witnessing their battles with cancer during the 4 years leading to their deaths, or dealing with the actual loss following their passing. The former still allowed me additional time with them but with the trade off of having them suffer through indescribable pain as they fought for those extra days. The latter gave them freedom from that pain when they decided they’d had enough and in a sense it gave me peace as well, until the realization set in that they were forever lost, at least in my earthly existence. I still don’t know which one was more severe but by any measure it was the worst time of my life no matter what internal and external coping mechanisms I exercised to minimize it.
In undertaking various philosophies and advice on how to grieve, I found in due course that all I needed was time for personal reflection, perspective, and the realization that I was fortunate for the time I had with them. If broken down on simple and natural levels, I accepted that this was the normal and inevitable sequence of generational events. Although distinguishable from others in the details, it was inevitable that they would pass before me and I was fortunate for how I remember them and how they live within almost everything I do, see, and feel.
In time I realized that it was not so much healing from their loss but getting on with the investment in myself, people, and things, that deserved and required my attention. I had so much at the time but the void left behind was eventually filled by Jason, Christian, and so many other changes in my world that grew to be just as meaningful because they became part of my “NOW” and “TOMORROWS”. Given their importance in how I continue to define and find significance in the life I still lead, it became critical to keep pace with them rather than wallow unnecessarily over losses and moments that are better left where they should remain. Otherwise whatever influence and contributions that my family and others may benefit from would be rendered obsolete with the passage of time.
A lot of people refer to life as a journey and by all means it is, or at least it should be. But for anything to qualify as a “journey”, there needs to be some progression and movement towards a destination; otherwise we remain ships adrift without sails or dry docked in the ports of call that we restrict ourselves too for convenience and safety. That is of course until the next hurricane, typhoon, or other natural calamity strikes and the only hope is to weather them and repair the damage that results. For me, I’m more interested in getting to where I want and need to be and would rather sail through and around them as opposed to remaining stationary and risk being beaten into submission.
I understand that God is behind some of the potentially disruptive forces we will undoubtedly encounter. However I honestly believe He still gives us the choice to step around many of those that can and should be avoided, and move beyond the others once the dust has settled and we are given greater clarity to continue on with our journey.
So we have to be aware that there will be times when we will be temporarily slowed or even stopped dead in our tracks depending on the severity of what was hurled our way or tragically taken from us. Still we have to remember that while we repair, reassemble, and regroup from those things that challenge us, other parts of our life move on without the same hesitation and at times, demanding and screaming for our attention and care.
If I ever need the motivation and inspiration to escape any sorrow I feel for myself, all I do is think of my friend Dee Dee. To lose her husband to cancer with infant and toddler sons who were too young to understand the loss she carried each day forward and still raise them remarkably, I have neither the words or insight to describe the tribulations she must have worked through. People liberally exercise the adjective “heroes” and “heroines” to mundane achievements but Dee Dee is on any scale absolutely and unequivocally one of mine and her sons, Cole and Brice, I hope she is one of yours! Maybe like my parents, our children along with what was discovered and added along the way became our salvation. Oh have I mentioned before that I “f’ing hate cancer”!
So when life changes through addition or subtraction and it seems like the challenges to recover from them are insurmountable, they’re not! The seeds have been or will be planted to grow from those moments. And with hope, effort, and time, the pain will eventually fade and our lives will soon bask in the happiness of the quality, quantity, and beauty that replaces those moments if we exercise our capacity to appreciate and enjoy them. There are only two things that can be taken that matter. The first is when our last heartbeat is extinguished on this earth and that is decided by God. The second is when all hope, faith, and joy in living is surrendered and that is extinguished by ourselves.
Last quote and I hope you got through the lengthy dialogue above because this is the message I’m trying to convey. “In our lives, change is unavoidable, loss is unavoidable. In the adaptability and ease with which we experience change, lies our happiness and freedom.” – Buddha
It’s an unpredictable life but oh, what a rich one it always can be!
(Marine Sergeant Joe Dicochea, Korean War veteran, and my dad – Original Posted Memorial Day, 2015)
“Just give me tomorrow.” – unidentified Korean War Marine soldier
Jason, I think you’ll like this given your admiration of the Marine Corp.
I was watching a Military Channel documentary “Against the Odds” about a company of Marines who fought in one of more iconic battles in the history of the Corp at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War or “police action” as it was officially referred to. I guess this was to avoid the stigma of the conflict that ended just years before called “WWII”. I’m not sure that the soldiers in the field during the later action felt any different than the ones who were part of the earlier one. However if that description made it more palatable to the politicians and public at the time, so be it but again, I’m sure the consequences and emotions associated with the battles faced by both “boots on the ground” were vastly similar regardless of it’s presentation to the masses.
Now back to the “Frozen Chosin” and the company that eventually was known as “Bloody George” because of it’s casualty rate. Their role became famous within the grander story that makes every Marine proud to be part of that tradition. Just a quick breakdown of the story, the George Company of the 1st Division after landing on Inchon (another iconic battle) and fighting in Seoul drew, more by circumstances than choice, the responsibility of having to hold their ground serving as “Spartans” to fend off what seemed to be the inevitable annihilation of the entire division by an unexpected attack by a Chinese forces. The Chinese army vastly outnumbered them while the division battled unforgiving terrain and the most severe elements of the winter that struck during this engagement.
I was riveted in fascination by the story and interviews with the surviving members of that company. Since my father (your grandfather) was a Marine veteran of Korea who continually referred to ideals of his beloved Corp as I grew up, I look upon just about every Marine combat veteran with an abundance of respect and personal pride by just having that connection with my father as well as other family members who wore that uniform. J I know you carry that pride and still hold my father’s Marine emblem in your hand during each pre-game prayers and rituals. Interestingly, I was informed after my father’s death by a Marine Corp vet who knew my Dad that he was involved in that epic battle while he was still still only a teenager. I’ve never bothered to verify its accuracy nor do I question its veracity since it wouldn’t affect the “hero” I’ve always viewed him as during my whole life. Moreover given his character, it doesn’t surprise me that he didn’t share that information because as I’ve learned, it was an awful engagement to be a part of and it was a memory reserved for a different audience than someone who could never understand the basic and personal ferocity of war.
So back to the point (thank goodness). George Company, who continuously battled for months of fighting culminating in surviving and escaping from a relentless onslaught of attacks by the Chinese (who outnumbered them 10-1) and the environment at Chosin, were nearing the end of their organized march to the deliverance of their home base from this personal “hell”. At this juncture, a correspondent approached one of the beleaguered company and asked what probably sounded like a ridiculous question at the time considering all the Marine had been through. However his response gave a profound meaning to not just his or his comrade’s existence but served as a reminder to mine.
Paraphrasing the question to that soldier, he was asked “if I were God and I could give you anything for Christmas, what would you want?” A picture was taken of his face with the vacant stare often seen on those in combat, fatigued and almost indifferent to the death he’d witnessed, answering with this simple response: “just “give me tomorrow!”
It would take way too long to share my own history to fully capture how important those words came across to me when I first heard them and all the times I’ve repeated them in my head since then. I think of all those times when I probably exaggerated the despair over the pseudo and “faux” ordeals that I unnecessarily burdened myself with at the expense of valuable time lost and the damage it caused. As I sit where I’m at now in my life, I can only say that I’m so ashamed of myself and I apologize to my Creator for all those days I despised and destroyed, along with all those “tomorrows” whose future occurrence I dreaded – how’s that for honesty?
I understand now, and thankfully not too late given my close calls with mortality, that each day was my own personal gift with resources to invest as I saw fit and that the “tomorrows” were only a privilege with no assurance that they would ever begin. I was such an f’ing fool and I also apologize to those who continually attempted to point out the overwhelmingly numerical reasons why my life was better than the few I chose to focus on and torture myself with – again, how’s that for honesty?
So my point, especially to you Son. Never under-appreciate the simple, basic elegance of the days afforded to us since they pass out of our vision too quickly and thinking what’s ahead of us to replace it just may never be there. It shouldn’t take that particular Marine or some old guy who fell on his head leading to a massive brain bleed, with the odds numerically against them more than most others for getting another “tomorrow”, lead you to understand what is right here in front of us is the only time that we are guaranteed to make the best difference for ourselves and everything around us.
J remember what I told you: until the last sun sets on the days we are given, every tomorrow has the potential to be the best day of our lives with the odds dramatically in our favor based on what we do, how we live, and the hope we carry towards the next day and it matters not how it ultimately turns out.
So I dedicate this message to my father, the Marines, and all military veterans given that this is Memorial Day and it’s important to me that I do something even if it’s sharing this particular story and associated message. Referring to the Marine Corp credo of “semper fidelis”, I think it’s pertinent to the ideal of being “always faithful” to acting for the betterment of ourselves and those especially close to us.
In my case in thinking about the story above, if we try to practice with that faith and tragically are not “given tomorrow”, at least what is left behind for others is a memory and it should reflect the following: We did the best we could, despite any adversity we had to endure, and capitalized on every internal and external resource available to us to make a joyful difference in the only life that we’ve been given, regardless of whether our own expectations of perfection are met.
I’ll end with this quote because I’ve been waiting so long for the right opportunity and I think it relays such a strong message regardless of the particular religious beliefs that are individually adhered to.
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” – Marcus Aurelius