by Kent Sterling
As people get older, they hear nature’s clock ticking more and more loudly. For a few, the result of that incessant clacking is a yearning to imbue the young and stupid with wisdom that can only be gained through experience.
Indianapolis Colts all-time sack leader Robert Mathis was once a young stud with a long future in the NFL ahead of him. Now, he is playing deep on the back nine of his career. The NFL has forced him to miss the next four games because he used the fertility aid Clomid to try to provide another grandchild for his mom as she battles stage four cancer, and that has turned him a little reflective.
Instead of leaving an empty locker at the entrance of the locker room of Colts complex on West 56th Street in Indianapolis for his teammates to walk past, there is a picture of Mathis and a copy of the message Mathis wants to share with his teammates:
“Athletes: Don’t take the sport you play for granted. Every time you play, you better be damn thankful that you get to do something you love. Don’t show up to practice complaining about not wanting to be there; you’re there hopefully because you love it. Work hard every moment. If you’re not working hard, you don’t deserve to play. Play every practice or game like it’s your last because it very well could be. When you finally reach the day that you can’t play, and you can only watch, then you will know how much you love something that you once took for granted.”
The great thing about aging is the wisdom you gain, and the best part of being young is the ignorance of loss – the lack of fear that time will someday be the foe that cannot be defeated.
Mathis understands that the pain of losing of 25% of one of his last seasons is profound. If this suspension happened when he was 24, there is no way Mathis would have been capable of writing such a profound message for his teammates, and would never have thought to leave it in his locker to be read by teammates.
Sadly, the 24 year-old teammates singing in the locker room yesterday probably paid little attention to the rantings of an elder statesman with something to teach.
But we are very lucky it was there for us to see because Mathis was right, and not just about being a professional football player, but about being a professional anything. If we don’t enjoy every day of our lives, our careers, our families, and our friends, then we don’t deserve the time left to us.
Good and bad happen, and responding to both with grace and vigor is all that makes sense. Not only do careers in professional sports end, but so does everything else. Reading Mathis’s words remind us that being stuck in a routine is nothing more than a corrupt perspective.
Some people are addicted to wanting more until they get it, and then suddenly realize that what was important was right in front of them all along. Life is about loving people, confronting adversity, and creating memorable experiences. It’s about finding a way to enjoy what you do, or doing everyday those things that you enjoy.
Misery has a way of creeping into our lives, and it takes discipline and wisdom to understand how precious our finite time and unique abilities are.
Mathis reminded us all to embrace today because there will come a time when our tomorrows end. There is no refilling our biological clocks, and the thing that we dread today might be what we miss most tomorrow.
There will come a time when we regret not knowing then what we know now, but the evidence to imbue us with that wisdom is everywhere. We just need to recognize and share it – as Mathis has – or allow it to be shared with us.