“The weekend at the college didn’t turn out like you planned. The things that pass for knowledge I can’t understand.” – Steely Dan, “Reelin’ in the Years”
After the weekend in Anchorage turned out to be far from desirable, more than a few of the True Believer Dogs around the world were downcast and unhappy. So, perhaps we should step back and think about something a bit more important.
With Thanksgiving upon us, let’s think about the sheer joy of life.
As the staff at Tech Hockey Guide was reinventing our website late this summer, we were hit with two events that affected all of us greatly.
Mitch Lane, a southern Californian who braved the UP to play two years for the Huskies and another two years at Lake Superior State, passed away after losing his struggle with pancreatic cancer. By all accounts, Lane had a great passion for life and for hockey in particular.
Lane remained deeply involved with hockey after his time in the college game. And, after being diagnosed with his disease in 2014, he was given six months to live, a typical prognosis for the nearly-always fatal cancer. But he fought against the ravages of the disease, and managed three and a half more years before succumbing. During that time, he remained an assistant coach with the Anaheim Jr. Ducks. And his efforts paid off. The Jr. Ducks Bantam AA team won the California state title, netting them a trip to the USA Hockey Nationals in 2016.
Lane’s son Zach and his nephew Nathan were on that team. I can only imagine the sense of pride he felt in both being part of that, and watching his son reach that level of competition.
When my son Ben, who also went to Tech, was playing Midgets, his team from Livonia made it to the Michigan state tournament in Escanaba. I had coached Ben in both house and travel teams over the years, but I wasn’t involved in his midget team. Instead, I was deeply engrossed in a huge career opportunity helping a couple of foreign automakers improve to compete in the US market. At the time of the tournament, I was in Seoul. And I’ve always regretted not getting to see him play in those games.
Mitch Lane was mourned by dozens or perhaps hundreds of friends and family. Just look up “Team Mitch” on Facebook and you can see for yourself.
The second event was much closer to home for the THG team. Less than two weeks after Mitch Lane’s death, Tom Braun, father of Tim Braun, one our founders as well as one of the guys who started Mitch’s Misfits, passed away. Tom was also taken by cancer.
Tom Braun’s death affected me more than you might expect. To start, I am very grateful for Tim’s efforts to work with me and give me the opportunity to share my observations about hockey and the Huskies with THG’s passionate readers. More than anyone else, Tim was the guy I worked with to establish that I was both sufficiently capable as a writer and suitably dedicated to join the staff. And, after watching my father die just two years ago after a slow and unpleasant decline, I had some idea of what Tim might be experiencing. You also have to understand that I’ve never met anyone from the THG staff face to face. We collaborate using email and other Internet tools, so of course I had never met Tim’s father.
But the thing that struck me deeply was that Tom Braun was 67 when he left this life: I had turned 67 just three weeks before.
As I’ve gotten older, I have become intensely aware that life is a temporary gift. We all must face the end sooner or later, and I’ve realized that we should reach out and relish the time we are granted. Some of us may be favored, or blessed, depending on your beliefs, with more days than others, but not one of us is likely to be granted more than fate has in store.
About ten years ago, I was faced with my own mortality. I had just completed my second hip replacement, which ended my time of playing hockey in over-50 leagues. I was living life at a crazy clip, traveling all over the world as a self-employed freelance engineering, management and quality expert. I was also writing a technical book about Failure Modes and Effects Analysis in between flights.
The stress was enormous but also incredibly intoxicating. And then I fell off an elevated tee on a golf course outside of Ann Arbor and broke my thigh bone right through the hip implant. Breaking the largest bone in your body and upsetting a major orthopedic implant is a very big deal.
I came quite close to dying, as the serious nature of the injury combined with the challenge of rehabilitation caused me to develop blood clots that traveled to my lungs. I spent 21 days at the University of Michigan hospital, and lost 35 pounds in three weeks. I finally checked out against medical advice because I just couldn’t stand to be in the hospital any longer. And I wanted to get back to my freelance work style as soon as I could.
Less than six months later, as I was being treated for a precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus, I suffered a heart attack. One of the clots that had lodged in my lungs probably broke loose and blocked blood flow in a cardiac blood vessel.
Talk about a wake-up call. Since then, I’ve changed my life very substantially. After an initial cardiac rehab (I had just started walking well after the injury) I decided to change the way I ate, and to consistently exercise. Then I decided that the next “real job” (no more freelancing and the associated globe-trotting) that came my way would be given serious consideration, and that’s how I ended up living and working in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
So this week, I’d like to offer some deeply heart-felt advice. Most of us reading this are probably not living a life that makes you wonder where your next meal will come from, or where you will sleep tonight. We have a standard of living that would be the envy of 99% of all of the human beings who have ever lived:
Make sure that you live each day with joy and a sense of gratitude. Take full advantage of the bounty we enjoy in the 21st century.
Yes, we will face disappointments, but most are small compared to what we can accomplish with our lives.
Each day I wake up, I try to remind myself of all I have to appreciate. Sure, I have moments of frustration and even anger in my work and (of course) when I’m playing golf. But to paraphrase Badger Bob Johnson, I often think to myself, “It’s a great day for living.”
I’m still going to be frustrated and angry whenever the Huskies don’t win, but what I feel now isn’t close to what I used to experience when things didn’t go well.
On Thanksgiving, I’m going to savor my health, my family, and the experience of life itself.
The Old Dog and the staff at THG wish the same for each and every one of you.
Steely Dan’s debut album, “Can’t Buy a Thrill,” which included their hit “Reelin’ in the Years” was released in 1972, the same year I graduated from Tech, the same year The Mac opened, and the same year I was drafted into the Army. I wish I had known at that time a bit of what I shared with everyone today.