03 Dec Open letter to Aliquippa Fighting Quips
I did not know DiMantae Bronaugh, but I see that contagious smile of his moving across social media. He seemed to be a courageous young man who was smiling even as he fought for his life. I was thrown back to a time when I was in high school, when my friend Larry Jones died suddenly and unexpectedly. I imagine similar things are happening in Aliquippa now as happened back in 1972: everyone pulling together, preparing for church services, making food for the family and the service, asking questions like, “Why does someone so young with such promise leave us so soon?” I guess we will never get adequate answers to such questions.
A few years ago, I was invited to present the “Larry Jones Award” to the Aliquippa football player who deserved it that year. At the banquet, I didn’t say much to the team other than that I knew Larry, and he was an incredible young man, and I did not want people to think of him simply as some kid who died playing football a long time ago. I wanted people to know just what an incredible kid he was. It was not an awe-aspiring address, to say the least; in fact, one might call it a disappointment.
You see, I did not attend Aliquippa High School, and I never played football. I was friends with Larry only in Junior High School, and never forgot his powerful presence. Although everyone was very nice and friendly to me at the banquet, I felt like an intruder—a fish out of water. As luck would have it, on the flight home to Florida the next day, I asked myself perhaps the right question, finally, but too late. Instead of asking myself, “What should I say to these young football players?”—which left me with no real ideas—I asked myself, “What would Larry say to those kids?” Once I stopped making it about me, but about Larry, I knew exactly what he would say. In fact, I could almost hear him screaming it in my ear. So with the loss of DiMantae, perhaps Larry’s words, which came to me on the flight home, too late to express to the team two years ago, may help a team and perhaps all teams come to terms with losses that do not make sense.
The most precious thing
These are the words I imagined Larry would say if he were addressing a high school football team, especially this year, as they lost a beloved friend and teammate in DiMantae.
I could hear Larry saying, “Tell them about the three things! Tell them! Tell them about the most precious commodity first!” The most precious commodity? Hmm, don’t know where that came from. I guess Larry is dictating again.
So to the team, I say: Yes, there are clearly three things that are important for you to remember, and there is one that is perhaps the most important. The most important is the most precious commodity. This most precious commodity is something we all have, and no one can take it away. Some have a lot, and some, well, they don’t have much. You cannot buy more, no matter how much money you have, nor can you sell any. It is fixed. You get what you get.
You see, each player, each person, we all have this thing in common. We all have this one thing that is the most precious thing. You may ask, “What’s he talking about? Is he talking about my family or coaches?”
“Maybe he’s talking about my GPA or how much I can bench press.”
“Maybe it’s my girlfriend or my quickness on the field.”
“Is it my 4.8 4/40? That’s precious to me. No one can take that away.”
Well, those are all precious things, but none are the most precious thing. In my imagination, Larry wanted you all to remember this, and perhaps DiMantae would like to remind you as well. At times like these, it is important to remind ourselves of the most precious thing and to treat it as the treasure that it is. It is the most precious of all things.
You see, the most precious commodity that we all possess but rarely think about is time.
Larry, and I imagine DiMantae, would want each one of you to remember not to squander or waste time on stupid things. That does not mean do not have fun. It does not mean do not enjoy life. It means, do not waste time on stupid things where you or someone else could get hurt over something stupid. Fighting for stupid reasons is squandering time, using drugs is squandering time, or drinking alcohol that can take hold and destroy your potential is squandering time. You know what squandering time means, and please remember, time is your most precious commodity.
Use it wisely.
Laughter and dreams
The second most important thing to Larry was to laugh and laugh a lot.
Anyone who knew Larry will not be surprised to hear laughing is the second most precious thing. I never met anyone who loved to laugh more than Larry Jones. He would tell the worst jokes that were not funny, but Larry would insist they were, and in a minute, we were laughing because he was laughing. His laugh was so contagious. He loved to laugh and enjoy life more than anyone I ever met. So with your precious commodity, make time to laugh and enjoy your life.
The third and final thing is that you must dream. Let me tell you something about dreams. The president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, once said, “If your dreams don’t scare you, then they’re too small.” Being president of Liberia is dangerous, especially for a woman. She was imprisoned, sentenced to death, freed and dreamed of being president to make the country better. Her dream came true. That is a brave woman. Her advice applies to you and me. Your dreams do not have to be big to be scary. Maybe you want to be a teacher, but you are afraid to speak in front of groups. That is a scary dream, and when achieved—a great accomplishment. You do not have to be a star. Please, try to understand what your gifts are, because you have them. And start dreaming and acting on the dream.
Another quote to remember by the writer Anais Nin: “Your life will expand or shrink based on the courage of your choices.”
My friend Larry wanted to play football for Iowa. I never knew Larry to be afraid of anything, but he might have been a little scared of that dream; that’s why it’s a dream. His courageous choice was going to take him halfway across the country. His life was about to expand because of this courageous choice. He wanted to study foreign languages, because he wanted to live in France for a while and wanted to know the language. Not bad for a kid from a little steel town in Pennsylvania. Not bad at all. Big scary dreams and courageous choices would have expanded his life halfway across the world.
Larry had dreams, big scary dreams born out of courageous choices. Larry had brains, athletic ability, courage and tenacity. He had a great sense of humor and a greater sense of who he was and where he was going. My friend Larry had everything to make his dreams come true. He had everything, but he did not have that one thing. That one most precious commodity. You see, he and DiMantae both got shortchanged in the precious commodity department. Neither had time.
But you do!
So please remember these three things as you plot the course of your life. Value every minute of every day. Laugh, laugh a lot, even if they’re bad jokes. Laugh with your friends; better yet, laugh with your enemies. Just laugh. Finally, dream. Dream big, scary dreams and go after them with courageous determination. Because it seems you have been very blessed. You have been given more of that most precious commodity—don’t waste it. Use it to laugh, dream, and love every day of your life. Larry and DiMantae, I think they’ll be watching. Don’t let them down. I try to not let Larry down, even though I hear him say pretty often, “Dow! Bow! What am I going to do with you?”
Read more about DiMantae’s life and fight with leukemia at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.