“It ain’t over till it’s over.” ~Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame baseball player and manager
“Ah, nothing is too late until the tired heart ceases to palpitate.” ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet
My Compa Pancho and I are avid sports fans and we text often when there’s news in the sports world. When legendary baseball player Hank Aaron died recently, I shared a video of a commercial that featured Aaron and Giants slugger Barry Bonds. The TV ad was aired during the year that Bonds was chasing Aaron’s all-time home run record. It was a clever tongue and cheek play on the historic chase.
So far so good, but there’s always a hitch when it comes to something about the Giants. Pancho is a die-hard Dodgers fan. Anytime I mention the Giants, he immediately prepares for hand-to-hand verbal combat and a flurry of shit-talking begins. To be fair to my compa, I do my share of talking shit about the Dodgers. Anyway, I was waiting for him to bring up the same old tired and unproven steroids BS about Bonds.
But that’s not what happened. His response was shocking. Like a ball coming out of left field, Pancho shared with me that a friend from his boyhood neighborhood committed suicide. The friend hanged himself. Not really knowing how to respond, I texted my condolences. Pancho went on to describe how the man’s family was devastated.
The last time Pancho saw his old neighbor was a few years ago. The man was riding a bike and looked skinny, tired, and old. He had struggled with depression and substance abuse for most of his adult life. According to Pancho, he was high on drugs when they ran into each other. After a few minutes of small talk, they went their separate ways. His life came to a tragic and lonely end in a losing battle against mental health, drug, and alcohol problems.
I spent the rest of that evening and most of the next day thinking about Pancho’s old friend. His story brought to mind the never-ending cycle of troubles that complicates our lives and keeps us on a continuous roller coaster of emotional high and lows. Too many times, the ride gets hair-raising and we think it’s too late to bring it back to safe place. It’s easy to give up, but my life story has taught me that no matter how hard life gets, it’s never too late.
I ran across a poem a while back by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that was perfect for what I was thinking about. Longfellow, one of America’s greatest poets, wrote the verse in 1875 as the keynote for his 50th college reunion where he read it to a group of 70+ year old classmates. The poem is about the reality that none of us will be able to stop time and it’s never too late to keep learning and growing.
The line that inspired me most from the poem reminds me of a famous quote from Hall of Fame baseball manager Yogi Berra. During the 1973 World Series, Berra was the manager of the New York Mets. The team lost the first 2 games and winning the series looked like a longshot. When reporters asked how he felt about the Mets’ chances after being so far behind, he famously said, “it ain’t over till it’s over.” The Mets went on to win the next 3 games in a row.
These 2 stories can be inspirations for anyone who’s thinking about giving up when life gets too hard. Both anecdotes encourage us to believe that it’s never too late, no matter the situation. At one time or another, all of us have fallen prey to the notion that an opportunity passed us by, with no way to return again. This leads to regret, second-guessing, and fear of not getting another chance. The inevitable next step is to give up.
I’ve always considered myself to be a person ready to take on life’s challenges head on. I didn’t think giving up was in my DNA. That arrogance was crushed during the first month of 1983 when I received a letter from San Jose State University informing me that I didn’t meet the academic requirements to stay enrolled. I flunked out and gave up on myself.
I spent the next several years, drinking excessively, partying, and soothing my bruised ego in unhealthy ways. Once the hangover from that blurry time cleared up, I started to work my way back into the university. I ran into a mental roadblock almost immediately. During the first semester back at SJSU, I confided in a professor that I thought I was too old to start over, it was too late to earn a degree. His response motivated me and changed my life.
The professor shrewdly concluded that I would grow older someday with or without a college education. Choose my path forward thoughtfully, he advised. With those wise words, I carried on with my studies and graduated a few years later. I worked tirelessly over the next 2 decades building a life and family with Sandra while developing a meaningful and successful career.
“Ah, nothing is too late; Till the tired heart shall cease to palpitate.”
Then, for a brief moment many years later, my heart actually ceased to palpitate. While I was sleeping comfortably on a hospital bed in the ICU during the wee hours of the morning on June 17, 2010, my heart went into cardiac arrest literally stopping for a few seconds. A team of doctors, nurses, and cardiac technicians frantically worked to get my heart pumping again. About 1,000 volts of electricity sent through defibrillator paddles did the job.
I had two more chances to give up during the 10 years following the close call. On my 55th birthday in 2018, a surgeon was putting the finishing touches on surgery to place a titanium pump in my heart. My lungs started to swell. It took 5 days of smart medical decision-making by the surgeon and anxious waiting for my family before the doctor closed my chest cavity. I didn’t think I could go through another rigorous rehabilitation. It was too late, I thought. I’ll never be the same. Nevertheless, life continued forward.
Seventeen months later, transplant surgery hit me like a speeding big rig and the meds made a mess of my psyche and emotions. By the third month of a slow and depressing recovery, I convinced myself that I was too old and too weak to come back yet again. Just when I was about to throw in the towel on this latest fight, I took advantage of the resources at my disposal. With God’s grace, an awesome transplant care team, Sandra and the girls’ love, and a little hard work, I marched on.
So, here’s what I’m trying to say. Longfellow and Yogi had it right. It’s never too late. As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, something will happen to make it a less than perfect day. Your internet service could go down in the middle of an important Zoom meeting, co-workers and/or your boss could get on your last nerve, you could get into an argument at home, your car might break down.
What are we to do when any given day inevitably turns imperfect? Keep going. Don’t look back. It’s not too late. As long as you heart continues to nourish your body and soul, there’s a chance that whatever is causing your suffering and grief is fixable. Over the next several posts, I plan to get philosophical and share my thoughts on how to overcome challenges big and small.
Until then, keep in mind – just believe – that everything will work out in the end. With faith, hope, and love, “it ain’t over till it’s over.”
Here’s the link to Longfellow’s full poem: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44639/morituri-salutamus-poem-for-the-fiftieth-anniversary-of-the-class-of-1825-in-bowdoin-college