I met Tim Green in 1982. He was a freshman football player at Syracuse University. I was a young TV sportscaster covering his ascent to stardom. We became friends.
This past weekend, 37 years later, Tim’s number 72 was retired and raised to the rafters at his alma mater. Tim developed into an All-American football player, Rhodes Scholar, NFL star, network TV personality, lawyer, business executive, and prodigious author.
He also became a husband and father. I attended his wedding, which seems like a million years ago. He and Illyssa are still married after raising a litter of five kids whose names all begin with the letter “T”, after “Tim.”
Tim was blessed with an abundance of gifts — maybe an overabundance. Is it fair that one person should be so talented? In addition to his athletic and intellectual abilities, Tim had charisma and the good looks and physique of a bulked-up model. He was (and probably still is) compassionate, expressive, curious, thoughtful, disciplined, ambitious, haunted, and vain. And why not? Tim Green had a loving family, legions of friends, multiple successful careers, financial riches, purpose, and good health.
He had it all. Until he didn’t.
In 2016 Tim Green was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). He made the revelation in typical Tim Green fashion, on network television’s iconic and longest-running show, 60 Minutes. During the segment with fellow Syracuse University alum Steve Kroft, tears flowed down Green’s cheeks. But, he told Kroft they were tears of joy, not of sadness or pain or regret.
He’s grateful. I get that. He has recognized his blessings — the bounty that has been bestowed upon him. Yes, he earned it through hard work, persistence, and perseverance; but the tools he utilized were a gift, for which Tim Green is eternally grateful.
Things are different now. Tim’s body is failing him — the same body that in large part made his fame and fortune possible. But he’s not mired in its failure. He’s chosen to celebrate its accomplishments. He doesn’t want sympathy. I doubt he has ever uttered the words “why me?” out loud? Maybe he hasn’t even wondered. No, there’s no “woe is me” in Tim Green.
I haven’t seen Tim in 8 or 9 years so my observations are from what I’ve read online and watched on TV but I’ve been profoundly affected by his story from afar. I’m sad that his body has been ravaged by this cruel disease, but I’m moved and inspired by his strength, acceptance, humility, perseverance, purposefulness, and hope.
It’s not my intent to nominate Tim Green for sainthood or make him into a mythic hero. He has his flaws just like you and me. And, this isn’t about keeping score.
It’s more about using Tim Green as a role model for our own self-exploration. There’s a lot we can learn from the way he’s chosen to live the remainder of his life. I certainly have. Tim’s story has forced me to think about relationships in my life I let slip away. I guess that’s why I wrote this.
There’s no better time than the present to ask ourselves some hard questions? Are we ready for misfortune to wreak havoc on the lives we know? Are we at peace with ourselves and those we love? Are we harboring resentment over an unresolved conflict or petty differences? Are we bitter, stubborn, intent on being right? If calamity knocked on our door today would we be haunted by unfinished business? Do we have the courage to seek resolution?
Sometimes we don’t get advance warning. Sometimes shit just happens. Boom! And then it’s too late. Then, we carry that burden with us until the end of time.
So, let’s think about putting our egos and fear in check. Let’s look in the mirror. Let’s reach out, forgive, give in, apologize, stop beating ourselves up. Let’s be at peace.
And, let’s never forget that life is but a finite gift.