It was a special day I look forward to every year: the day of the ESPY Awards. For those of you who don’t know, the ESPY Awards are an annual gala along the lines of the Golden Globes or the Grammy Awards, except for professional sports. A lot of people consider the event to be redundant, as athletes receive accolades from their respective sport leagues and franchises during the active season. I personally like how the athletes display an elegant type of showmanship at these kinds of things. Also, Mad Men’s Jon Hamm was the host this year, which is a huge plus.
On the afternoon of the 2013 ESPY Awards, I had some free time in between plans. After finishing my work-out, I went home to shave, shower, and get ready for the second half of my day. To help me mentally-prepare for the awards show, I tuned in to ESPN New York to get my daily fix of New York-metropolitan area sports coverage. Those are my teams, because that’s where I’m from. When I turned on the station during that week, I usually heard show hosts talking about the Yankees’ injured Derek Jeter or pondering the possibility of Carmelo Anthony leaving the Knicks to wear purple and gold in L.A. But this time I heard a teary-eyed Dick Vitale (the iconic basketball commentator) making a plea to listeners to donate money to the V Foundation cancer fund.
The V Foundation was created by the late Jim Valvano, a former men’s college basketball coach that led North Carolina State University to win the 1983 NCAA Championship. In June 1992, Valvano was diagnosed with cancer, and under a year later in March 1993 he spoke at the inaugural ESPY Award show to advocate cancer research.
So there I was, shaving whilst listening to Dick Vitale reflect on the first ESPY Awards and then an excerpt from Jim Valvano’s speech was played:
“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
I was in awe. “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day.” That kind of optimism should be contagious. Those words were coming from a man with cancer! Instead of waking up and counting days, he celebrated every minute! Valvano died about two months after his appearance on the ESPY Awards. That’s incredible. I can’t help but to be inspired when someone finds a way to make the most of a monumental burden like that.
Moments earlier, I was lost in my head. I was getting antsy about a much-needed, upcoming trip away from the Heartland. I was feeling lost in the emotional surrender of post-collegiate anxiety. I was panicking about watching my friends start to settle down while I’m still discovering what my priorities are. Jim’s words reminded me of how grateful I (and most of us) should be.
Before hearing that clip, I wasn’t taking anything for granted. I wasn’t disregarding that I have a healthy body, friends/family available for mere conversation at a drop of a hat, and the freedom to continue discovering. No, I didn’t forget those things; but a reminder never hurts.
Most of us need much more than we would like to admit. People are oftentimes frightened by vulnerability and the embarrassment that comes with it. But there is no lasting benefit to being that self-conscious. When I repeat what Jim said and remind myself of what he went through, I approach each day more gracefully.
Today, imagine that you no longer had the ability to laugh, think, or cry. Just for one second, envision yourself in a world where you couldn’t love or embrace anyone or anything at all. Then, take a deep breath and welcome those subtleties of living; the little things that shape our most important memories. And tomorrow, do it again, and again, and again.
Mike Bednarsky is a playwright and poet from Fairfield County, Conn. He is a current member of the University of Iowa undergraduate Creative Writing Track. In 2013, Bednarsky was an intern for the Iowa Youth Writing Project. He currently resides in Iowa City, IA.