Saying Good-bye to Hero
"But the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.'' Ralph Waldo Emerson A passage underlined in a book belonging to Pat Tillman.
Yesterday, a lot of people who knew Pat Tillman and a lot of people who would like to have known Pat, paid tribute to him in San Jose. Gwen Knapp covered the service for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Just when we thought we had a pure and simple hero, a millionaire athlete who gave up wealth and fame to become the ideal patriot, to make the ultimate sacrifice, his friends and family complicated everything. They turned Pat Tillman into a human being Monday, showing us what was really lost during that ambush in Afghanistan, insisting that we question every assumption we've made since he died an icon on April 22.
Tillman's youngest brother, Rich, wore a rumpled white T-shirt, no jacket, no tie, no collar, and immediately swore into the microphone. He hadn't written anything, he said, and with the starkest honesty, he asked mourners to hold their spiritual bromides.
"Pat isn't with God,'' he said. "He's fucking dead. He wasn't religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he's fucking dead.''
His brother-in-law and close friend, Alex Garwood, described how Tillman handled his duties when he became godfather to Garwood's son. He came to the ceremony dressed as a woman. Not as a religious commentary. He was doing a balancing act.
"We had two godfathers, no godmother,'' Garwood explained. And what NFL player turned Army Ranger wouldn't don drag to make that math work?
Who on earth was this guy?
"He talked about gays,'' Lyle Setencich, the former ASU assistant said. "He asked me, 'Could you coach gays?' " Setencich told Tillman yes. He could, and he had. He repeated that at the memorial service, televised on ESPN, in front of the sports world, showing another side of a coach, another side of an American hero.
I wish there were a million more like you, Pat. I would like to have known you better and for a lot longer.
[This is double posted, here and on my new web address here.]