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The Time of Goodbyes

by on August 22, 2013 6:55 AM

Several months ago I was watching an ESPN documentary on the 1962 Ole Miss football team.

The exceptional writer and narrator of that film, Wright Thompson, wrote of that team, "The 1962 Rebels are now in that time of goodbyes, losing another teammate or two every year. One day they will all be gone but what they accomplished will remain."

As soon as I heard him say "time of goodbyes", those words just stuck with me. It was one of those days when I had been thinking about my father, now gone, and the life he'd lived.

On the television, I saw the images of the Ole Miss team reunion; all the smiles and the sunlight bathing them in a glorious hue as they stood on the field. I realized that my father will never have that moment, that time on the field or before a game telling the stories of old plays, and critical moments and laughing.

But the "time of goodbyes" hits all of us and is in no way limited to only those who competed or coached.

This past Saturday I attended the funeral of a friend's mother. Mrs. Eberhart was a College Heights neighborhood institution. Her house was always unlocked; you knew you were always welcome. She and her husband raised four exceptional children. Her youngest son Pete and I grew up together in a place where we could roam the streets without worry.

About thirty years ago I was invited to tag along with them on a ski trip. My mother asked Mrs. Eberhart to make sure I attended Sunday Catholic Mass. Even when we were away, my mother always insisted that we did not miss mass.

"God doesn't go on vacation," my mother once told me when I protested about having to attend mass on vacation.

Mrs. Eberhart promised my Mom she would find a mass and get me there. Early Sunday morning she drove me down windy, deserted Main Street in Cortland, NY to the catholic church. In the quiet car I could hear the snow crunching under the tires of a mostly unplowed street. There was no one out and about.

In the car Mrs. Eberhart said, "You know the rest of us could learn from the Catholics about regular church attendance."

I laughed and said "I wish the Catholics would learn about less regular church attendance from everyone else."

She laughed and dropped me off, knowing that she had kept her promise to my mother.

Saturday at the funeral I saw people I'd known since childhood. Much of the old neighborhood was in one room. Familiar faces triggered a flood of memories. We laughed about a Sunset Park horseshoes game that ended when one metal horseshoe hit someone in the head. We didn't play again until we had rubber horseshoes at the park.

There were stories about egging houses and tales of Halloweens or Christmas caroling long past. As a paperboy I delivered newspapers to many of the people in the room, but no one present had suffered any Halloween pranks from us.

In a quiet moment Saturday evening I recalled my Uncle George's funeral over a decade earlier at King's Point in Long Island. In a room looking out over the water and at the Throg's Neck Bridge in the distance, my father was seated with his childhood friends. They told stories about proud moments with tales of mischief mixed in.

I reflected on the essential truth of our shared humanity; the sun will set on our mortality and there will be sunrises after we are gone.

As I near the turn where I am closer to fifty than I am to forty, there will be more goodbyes. Parents, in-laws, uncles, aunts, friends of my parents are reaching an era when people that have been fixtures in our lives will pass. It's a hard thing to accept.

As the school year begins anew the carefree childhood summer days have passed. The work of the school year means that my children are another year older and by extension, me as their father. Days turn to weeks, weeks to years, years to decades.

At last Saturday's funeral I listened to Dr. Eberhart speak about his wife. I was moved to hear a husband who was so dedicated, and still so in love with the woman he married almost sixty years earlier.

He mentioned things he may have left unsaid, telling us to make sure our partner knows exactly how we feel and what they mean to our lives. I thought of words left unsaid. How much I regret things left unsaid, maybe more than things I wished I'd never said.

As the arc of our lives begins to descend it is important to remember that many we love will be gone, and we too will be gone one day. But more important is to remember what we accomplish and what we say will remain even as the sun rises for the first time without our eyes open to see it.



State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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