I am not there. I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am a diamond glint on snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you wake in the morning hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight
I am the soft starshine at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not here. I did not die."
FORT GRATIOT, Mich. – For centuries, the human race has used athletic competition as an outlet, a way of taking a break from the mundane drudgery of the daily grind.
For better or worse, a hefty number of Americans commit themselves to sports, and live vicariously through the quarterback, shortstop, point guard or goalie.
Sports can serve another purpose. Our hometown team can be the distraction we need when times are tough. When the sea of life turns violent, "our" team can be the rock we cling to as life rages around us.
For me, I needed my Cleveland Browns this week. When not working on the City Desk at my newspaper in Michigan, I spend time writing about my hometown Browns for BerniesInsiders. I'd scheduled a trip last to Berea to visit the team's training camp. My plan was to gather interviews for some upcoming stories for the Web site and in preparation for the Browns-Lions game this month.
Before I left, however, I got the news my sister had been killed by a drunken driver in Florida.
Shock. Mortification. Sadness. Anger. All the trademark emotions did their duty.
A thousand miles from the scene, there was little I could do. So instead of lingering in a pool of self-defeating sorrow, I forged ahead with my plans and made the trip.
Easy? No, but it was the tonic I needed to get through the week. The work is a guilty pleasure, and allowed me to get my mind off the accident. The distraction of sports let me focus more clearly when I needed to most.
Sitting in my hotel room, the workday complete, I was finally able to think clearly about my sister, Lysa, and what happened. I'd forgotten that while growing up, I'd always called her Leece. She would roll her eyes at my devotion to the Browns, which distracted me from chores and schoolwork.
Nine years older than me, Lysa was the middle – and sometimes problem – child. Her foibles in life were often cause for alarm, but she always managed to lift herself off the mat. She often ventured where angels fear to tread, but returned each time from the brink – even from her own drunken driving accident as a teenager.
But not this time. After all her trials and tribulations, it was the criminal stupidity of someone else that sealed her fate. She leaves behind two children of her own, and two brought to a marriage by her second husband.
The loss for me is more than a sibling of nearly 30 years. Because she was far from a candidate for sainthood, she served as my sort of moral compass. And her greatest quality was she knew that as well, using her own mistakes to illustrate the proper path in life for me.
Did I always listen? Do little brothers ever listen to big sisters?
Of course not. My own checkered past reads like a David Lynch script, but in the end, looking back, I find I did heed her lessons. And I'll never have the chance to tell her so.
Tragically, her final lesson was one given so little attention by so many people, and one for which she paid the ultimate price: Stay sober on the road, and wear your seatbelt.
Remember that the next time you chug a brew before leaving the Jake, Gund, or Cleveland Browns Stadium. The joy of being a fan is far less when friends and family are no longer around to share it.
Doc Gonzo is a former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor. He now lives in Michigan's Thumb, safe from fools, knaves and Ratbirds. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.