Monday, April 26, 2004

The Meaning of Life

"The body of Pat Tillman former professional football player and Army Ranger arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware today."

So reads the opening line of hundreds of stories running in newspapers across America this morning.

Thousands of words have and will be written about this young man. Hours of television and radio will be devoted to telling his story.

I, like many, first heard of Pat Tillman when he and his brother, Kevin both joined the Army and pursued a new path in Special Forces. As you probably already know, Kevin was a promising minor-league baseball player.

I heard of Tillman's untimely death during a news break last week. My habitual talk-show programming turned it's attention on this new revelation. Many times, over the succeeding days I have heard him lauded. Some were troubled that Tillman was being held up as special. That somehow his sacrifice of a lucrative career and the limelight of professional sports made his death more significant.

And the amount of press his death has engendered would certainly bear this feeling out. Tillman himself, by all accounts would agree that his death was no different than hundreds of young men and women in the armed forces. His reluctance in life to grant interviews after enlistment, of wanting to be a viewed as 'nothing more' than a member of his unit was his only wish.

Still, the NFL commissioner made special note of Tillman's passing before last weekends draft sessions.

And who could blame the press for running such a 'story.'

Pat Tillman was the embodiment of the dreams of thousands in America. Fortune, Fame, everything that marks success by society's standards.

And in a world with 14 year old professional soccer players, a world where High School basketball stars revitalize the NBA by moving directly to their home-town team, where the very draft that honored Tillman was the subject of a court case that challenged the NFL rule barring players only two years out of high-school from inclusion in the lottery of stardom, what boy would not dream such dreams?

And yet, Tillman turned his back on the recognition, the adulation, the riches.

For something more important.

Duty, Honor, Country.

Like all good fiction Neal Stephenson's novel QuickSilver has caused me to ponder many things.
One of his characters seemed like she could have been speaking of Tillman as I read this morning:
"He has decided to gamble his life on it. Not in the sense of living or dying, but in the sense of making something of his life, or not."

And there lies the lesson...

The difference between Tillman's choice and our own, is his DID involve living or dying.
But he knew what that choice was, and knew he had to make it.

I think most observers have it backward.
What makes Pat Tillman special is not that he was a Football star who gave up everything to be a soldier.

Pat Tillman is special because he was a soldier who gave up everything.

You see, Patrick Tillman understood he was at the crossroads.

And Football is only a game.