Hugs transcend the chasm of race, religion, age, geography, sexual orientation and economic status. Hugs have no political philosophy. Liberals can hug. So can conservatives. In fact, if the two groups would hug each other a little more, there might be fewer know-it-alls on both sides of the political spectrum lecturing the rest of us on who is right and who is wrong. (The answer: Neither. The truth always lies somewhere in the middle. Sorry about that, know-it-alls.)
I thought about hugs when I read Carlton White’s moving account of the memorial ceremony for Philip Lutzenkirchen at Lassiter High School in Thursday’s MDJ. Lutzenkirchen, who was an all-star football player at Lassiter, an outstanding tight end at Auburn and a member of the 2010 national championship team, died in a one-car crash last Sunday morning in Troup County, not far from LaGrange. He was 23 years old.
Lassiter’s Frank Fillmann Stadium was filled to capacity for the memorial service, which tells you a lot about the young man. He obviously touched a lot of lives off the football field as well as on.
Among the speakers was Philip Lutzenkirchen’s father, Michael. In his remarks, he thanked all those who had been involved in his son’s life and talked about the journey ahead for him and his family. “I’ll need hugs from all my new sons,” he said. And he will.
As many of you know, we lost a grandson in the prime of his life. Zack Wansley was a junior at Georgia Tech and a runner. For a time, he was a member of the cross-country team at Tech, but with the demands of the school’s co-op program where a student spends every other semester in the workplace, he opted to forego the team sport but not his passion for running.
In September 2008, while training for the Atlanta Marathon, Zack suddenly and inexplicably collapsed and died. He was 20 years old.
Zack was the oldest of our four grandsons. All the boys knew early on that when they were around their grandfather, they were going to get hugged. Even when they grew to eye-level and beyond, no handshakes were allowed and still aren’t. Those are the rules.
The last time Zack was at our house, he stuck out his hand as he was leaving and then suddenly remembered the rules. We hugged. That hug will last me for a lifetime. It will have to.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because it is important, that’s why. What happened to Philip Lutzenkirchen and to Zachary Wansley should remind us all that life is as delicate as gossamer and that death is a part of the fabric. Don’t take one minute of one day for granted. Tomorrows are not guaranteed.
There is plenty of time for debating whether Obamacare is a needed benefit or a pending disaster; if the Common Core curriculum is a good thing for public schools or not; how the county commission has handled or mishandled the pending move of the Atlanta Braves to Cobb and other hot-button issues that seem to preoccupy us these days.
That is not to say they are not important and worthy of debate, but they become mere trivialities when you are trying to understand the loss of a loved one; particularly if that loved one had the promise of many bright years ahead of them. As I write this, I am trying to remember what I deemed to be the hot-button issues on that September morning in 2008. Today, I have no idea. Whatever they were, they were quickly put in perspective.
I promise that I will be back to my old snarky self next week, pricking the pompous egos of the self-important and getting the humor-impaired in their usual snit. It is what I do best and you would be disappointed if I didn’t. But given what has occurred in our community recently with the loss of Philip Lutzenkirchen and the tragic death of 22-month-old Connor Harris, I would be remiss not to suggest we all step back a moment and reflect on what is really essential in this world. In my world, hugs are essential.
Hug your loved ones every day. If they aren’t in near proximity for an up-close and personal hug, then give them a virtual hug. It won’t cost you a dime but, believe me, it is priceless.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb.