Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Get through it, and you'll be better for it

By any measure, Joe Torre has had a pretty good life.

As a player, he was a 9-time All-Star, batting almost .300 for his career. As a manager, he's guided teams to six World Series appearances, winning four.

He's appeared in TV commercials and carried the Olympic torch through Italy. He has four children.

But it's not been easy.

He's battled prostate cancer. He's had three marriages, two of which ended in divorce. His brother, Rocco, died of a heart attack.

As manager of the NY Mets from 1977-1981, he lost 134 more games than he won. On six occasions, his Yankee teams lost in the American League Championship Series, leaving them one step shy of the World Series.

In a book I read once, Torre talked about how when things get tough, he pushes through it.

"I say that to my players. It's a tough time right now. Don't look for a reason why it's happening. Just deal with it. Get through it, and you'll be better for it. I just try to use this attitude for every experience I have -- personal and professional -- and move on."

In many ways, my friend Mike Whitmarsh was a lot like Joe Torre. He was one of the stars of our college basketball team, leading USD to a conference title and a spot in the NCAA tournament. After earning his college degree, he was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers and played professional basketball in Europe for three years.

When he'd had enough of basketball, he turned his attention to volleyball, having a long and successful career on the pro beach volleyball tour and winning a silver medal at the '96 Olympics in Atlanta.

Blessed with a wonderful smile and terrific sense of humor, Whit was a guy everyone seemed to like. In the words of the legendary Karch Kiraly, "I don’t know if you will find in all of sports someone who was better liked by all of his peers."

Perhaps most important, Mike had two beautiful daughters to whom he was a loving father.

Joe Torre and Mike Whitmarsh are a lot like the rest of us. No, we may not have sat in the dugout at Yankee Stadium or won an Olympic medal. But we all have things we're proud of -- things we feel good about, no matter how small or personal.

And, like Joe and Mike, we've faced mountains and wondered how we'd ever get over them. Divorce. The loss of a loved one. Getting fired. Getting sick. Losing something. Falling short of a goal.

During those intensely emotional times, we've felt like tossing in the towel. After all, we're human. But like Joe Torre, most of us "just deal with it." Like Torre, we "get through it." We come out on the other side and we're better for it.

Most of us do, but not all of us.

Whitty didn't get through it. He didn't come out on the other side. On February 17, at 46 years old, Mike took his life.

When I heard the news, one of the first people I called was my sister, who studied literature in college and who genuinely loves poetry. A few minutes after we talked, she sent me a one-line text message, a quote from Ben Okri, a Nigerian poet.

"The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering."

In his 46 years of life, Mike did all of these things -- created, overcame, endured, transformed, and loved.

I only wish, in a time of great pain, he'd fought through his suffering.