Guest Post: Why Me? Why NOT Me?

I posted a short quote from a baseball player, of all things, in the “He Said/She Said” section. It was Mel Stottlemyre, a baseball coach and certifiably Famous Dude within the world of MLB, shrugging and refusing to pity himself for being struck with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer. “Why me? Why not me?” he said in a Steve Rushin article in Sports Illustrated a decade ago, and I’ve never forgotten. (It must be an example I need to remember.) Thoughtful reader Michael Freeman made his comment into a short personal essay, which deserved prime real estate, and here it is:

I don’t know who actually coined this phraseology first, but it took me a long time to come to the same conclusion, if not the same exact language. A coin has two sides, different sides unless you are lucky enough or crafty enough to possess one of those phony two-headed coins of con job fame.

An argument, or debate, in its simplest form has a pro and a con. An island has an east and a west coast. A game has a winner and a loser. Why can’t every why have a why not?

I was leaving an AA meeting one time. I had just joined in the group commiseration of throwing our proverbial dirty laundry into the centre of the table, and shared ideas as to how to proceed. Each meeting is a safe haven where all are welcome to share and discuss and come away feeling just a little bit better. And it usually works, for many, at least along spiritual and emotional lines, but I have always had the nagging of physical discomfort knocking at my door. Daily. Persistent. And at times, relentless.

I stood at the bottom of a staircase bemoaning my condition: festering leg and back pain and a mind distracted by its impact. I hesitated for but a few moments,

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Mel Stottlemyre (considering the odds & not complaining)

My name is Howdy, and I’m still a paper wrangler.

Oh, I have e-files, too, of great letters, articles of lasting importance to me, and no doubt lots of ephemera that will make me wonder, Why did I hang on to that, again? In our move back from China, though, I also had the challenge of deciding what magazine tear-outs would make the luggage weight limit, and have come back to hundreds more in my big green Ottawa filing cabinet in the garage. So.

I ran across a column from Steve Rushin — he’s excellent, a very funny writer, though not in this piece — in the July 12, 2004 Sports Illustrated. (Paper hoarders sometimes get to remember useful things, and fine.) He was writing about cancer, multiple myeloma, because his big brother Jim had it and, more famously, so did a couple of superb ex-big-league ballplayers. Rushin began this way: We have ‘disillusionment’, but not an opposite word (illusionment) for when somebody’s even better than you thought. He was talking about Mel Stottlemyre, a former major league pitching star.

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Richard Sherman (on athletic stereotyping)

“I felt like somebody took me from somewhere else and dropped me down into this place [Compton, a rough section of Los Angeles]. I was strange because I went to class, did the work, read the books and was still pretty good at sports….I know the jock stereotype – cool guy, walking around with your friends, not caring about school, not caring about anything. I hate that stereotype. I want to destroy it.”

Richard Sherman, DB, Seattle Seahawks (NFL), in a Sports Illustrated cover story, 29 July 2013. Speaking of stereotypes, Sherman is black, wears long dreadlocks, graduated a frustratingly close second in his high school class, and chose (and graduated on time from) Stanford University instead of the more highly ranked football factories that recruited him. Though he talks more trash than would appear humble, he is a small treasure to this coach and writer and long-time catcher and flinger of balls: Sherman is a talking, walking stereotype-buster, a jock with brains and no intention of hiding them. His story made an interesting companion to Steve Rushin’s piece on humility in the same issue, as Sherman is not shy about bringing attention to himself.

Thinking of Yourself, Less

Time to plant.

I remember when humility was a virtue, a quality that most people felt was praiseworthy and useful. We had no trouble distinguishing it from humiliation, which was a shameful condition visited upon us by others. Oh, we liked it when the braggart was forced to “eat humble pie” (sometimes, even, when it was us who had to eat that bitter confection), but mainly we felt that baking that pie and nibbling at it regularly was not just good medicine but often a sweet and sustaining way to eat.

Here’s today’s question: does a humble writer try to increase his page views by shamelessly flogging his ‘brand’? (“Duh, of course!”) Or to put it another, less JH.comAllTheTimeHeyEnoughAboutMeWhatDoYOUThinkOfMyWebsite?- centric way, how can we use the incredible connectivity and expressive potential of social media without becoming insufferably dull and incurably self-absorbed? I don’t know, and mainly err on the side of Luddism and avoidance.

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C.S. Lewis (on humility)

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less.

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) was most famously the spinner of the Narnia tales. He was also a noted Cambridge and Oxford scholar/professor, J.R.R. Tolkien‘s buddy, and one of Christianity’s most noted modern apologists (which does not mean he was sorry for Christians). I was tickled to learn that he was known as ‘Jack’ to friends and family, as Tolkien was called ‘Gandalf’ by intimates. (Kidding about Tolkien.) I was pleased to stumble on this powerhouse quote* – in a Steve Rushin column in Sports Illustrated, not to my surprise – and to be reminded of this statement about the misapplication of humility, made by G.K. Chesterton.

* Perils of quotation and the Internet: not likely through any fault of his, the American super-pastor Rick Warren is given credit for this saying on several sites.