Anna enrolled in hospice with end stage dementia. Only two weeks after Anna’s enrollment, Shasta, her hospice nurse, called and informed me that Anna was “actively dying” and that the family asked her to notify me. They didn’t request that I come but I read the invitation between the lines.
When I arrived, Anna was unresponsive and the family was at her bedside along with our chaplain, Pete. Anna’s daughter, Karen, with a heartbroken expression, reported, “She’s just not the same”. If you’ve stood at the bedside of someone dying you know how helpless and awkward it can feel. You desperately want to say something to make it better or easier, but it’s not supposed to be easy. However, I’ve found that it’s respectful and meaningful to celebrate a person’s life by sharing memories and stories at the bedside. Can you think of anything sweeter to hear during your final hours than your family and friends talking about what you’ve been and meant to them?
So I asked Karen, “Are there any sayings that your mom used to tell you when you were growing up that you’ll always remember?” Karen thought a minute and replied, “There are two things that mom used to say, ‘Don’t slam that door too hard behind you because you might have to walk back through it’; and she always told me, ‘Karen, remember, it only costs ten percent more to go first class.’. “ Karen added, “I never forgot that.”
But what does it mean to “go first class”? Does it mean being best, finishing first, or winning? Jim Tressel, former football coach for the Ohio State Buckeyes, wrote “The Winners Manual for the Game of Life” (2008). It’s a condensed version of his four-hundred page “Winners Manual” he presented to every new freshman player. It’s a compilation of philosophical principles and practical wisdom that he collected during his twenty-three years of coaching. Surprisingly, it’s more about being “a winner in the game of life” than about football. Coach Tressel studied the lives, methods and philosophies of successful coaches. One of his “heroes” was John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach of the UCLA Bruins. Coach Wooden penned his definition of “success” in his 1972 autobiography titled “They Call Me Coach”: “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing that you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” Coach Tressel, in his “Winners Manual” added the words “…for the group”. Coach Tressel led his team in reciting the following mantra in the tunnel at “The Shoe”, immediately before taking the field at each game: “I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything but I can do something. And the something I can do I ought to do. And what I ought to do, by the grace of God I shall do.”
So “Going First Class”, being a “winner in the game of life”, isn’t about being best, it’s about doing and giving your best. It’s about doing whatever you put your hand to with all your heart, doing your part for the highest good of the people in your life who are counting on you.
In my book, Jim Tressel is a first class coach and human being. I emailed him a copy of this story and he responded, “Thanks for the kind words. Thanks too for your humble service that makes a difference in difficult times. God bless, Jim Tressel.”
Now, a message to the naysayers who would disqualify Coach Tressel because of him losing his job over the NCAA infractions: “It’s not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory nor defeat” -- — Teddy Roosevelt
What about us? Have we known “…the great enthusiasms, the great devotions…”? Have we spent ourselves in a “worthy cause”? I don’t know about you, but when it’s all said and done, I don’t want my place to be with “…those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory nor defeat”. So let’s join Karen and never forget, “It only costs ten percent more to go first class”
“Jesus said unto them, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22: 37)