Earlier today I attended the memorial service for Michael Goodgame, one of three students at Carleton College who were killed in a car accident last week. Michael was traveling with his teammates on the Carleton men’s ultimate team to a tournament in Stanford, CA when the accident happened. I did not know him, but having attended the funeral last year of a player I used to coach – Brute Squad’s Stephanie Barker – I felt that I needed to be there to today to help support the Carleton team.
Dealing with Stephanie’s death was one of the most difficult things that I’ve been through. Though I was not coaching Brute Squad last year, the love you have for the players you work with does not fade, and it was terrible to feel powerless to help them through this horrible time.
One of the things that helped me, though, were the words of Jason Adams, Stephanie’s friend and college coach at Northeastern. He talked about how different people have different ways of dealing with tragedy and that no one way was wrong. Outside of the memorial service, a short conversation with Brute Squad’s Sara Jacobi made me want to write about some of the players I’ve coached, why they’ve inspired me, and why I loved them so much. I wrote about Molly McKeon and Gwen Ambler of Riot, and Blake Spitz and Peri Kurshan of Brute Squad. Writing about these players helped me deal with Stephanie’s death. I think that’s why I’m writing now.
I arrived at today’s memorial service about an hour early so I could have time to sit and reflect. For a while I was the only one sitting in the pews, and the pastor came over to talk to me. We chatted for a bit about how to help people deal with these tragedies. I told her about Jason’s words and how they helped me last year. She liked what he had to say.
I don’t know how Michael’s father had the strength to speak at this memorial, but he spoke beautifully and his words have struck me much like Jason’s words did.
He spoke about the words that Achilles’s mother said to him in the Iliad. After a little searching when I got home, I think he was paraphrasing this passage (section 9.410):
For my mother Thetis the goddess of the silver feet tells me
I carry two sorts of destiny toward the day of my death. Either,
if I stay here and fight beside the city of the Trojans,
my return home is gone, but my glory shall be everlasting;
but if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers,
the excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be a long life
left for me, and my end in death will not come to me quickly.
He didn’t quote this passage directly though, but rather focused on the choice Achilles had of a short life with glory or a long but uneventful life that would be “forgotten in two generations.” Those last words really struck me for some reason. I did not understand where he was going, but what he said next was powerful.
For him the implication of Thetis’s message to her son was that the small acts of kindness done over many years do not have lasting meaning or glory. She was wrong, he said, and his son Michael was proof. He thanked all of Michael’s teachers, mentors, and friends for all of their kindness and love towards his son over the years, and said that he had become the incredible kid that everyone was there to celebrate because of them. It was a beautiful message of love.
After the service I spent some time talking with Carleton’s coach who was doing his best to help his players cope. They are all getting on a plane at 6:00 am tomorrow to attend two more memorial services in Minnesota. I mentioned Jason’s words from last year to him, and how those words had inspired me to write about some of the players I’ve coached. We talked about how we love these kids.
As I was driving home my thoughts drifted away from the Iliad to Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey.” His words reminded me of the love I have for the players I’ve worked with and how just thinking about them is uplifting to me:
Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft –
In darkness and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart –
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee.
How often indeed, and today especially. And the end of the poem captures how, just because of them, the last 6 years have been so special to me:
. . . . these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake.
Hug your teammates.