Letters About Literature National Winners 2010
National Honor Winner, Level 3: Austin Helmink, IA
Dear Jeffrey Marx,
I worry. I worry about what my obituary is going to say, what my legacy will be. Will there even be one? Will people remember my name when all that is left is a headstone? Will my life have mattered in the overall scheme of things? Will my life be just another couple of lines in the obituary column? But these are good concerns because I am not lying on my deathbed wondering them. I am doing so as a fifteen-year-old with my entire life ahead of me and a chance to shape my life any way I choose. Your book, Season of Life, gave me my decision. I want to be a man built for others; I want to make a difference.
Before reading Season of Life I would have thought that football, a sport I play, and love had absolutely nothing in common. They couldn't have been more incongruous. Isn't the whole idea of football to hate your opponent and try to bury them in the ground? Your book showed me that while football is about knocking people down, it can also be about helping them up. You have used a violent sport to show how men and boys should not dare be afraid to look for love.
Through sports and entertainment my culture teaches me that to be a "real man" I must be strong and athletic and have the most girls and money. I didn't believe this before, but reading your book added a different insight. Coach Joe Ehremann's message was built around striving to be men built for others, to be other-centered. He talked about speaking at funerals and having to manufacture something good to say about the person. I don't want my eulogy to be "manufactured." I want it to celebrate the true impact I had on people and give my family comfort in thinking about the difference I made. But this is much easier said than done.
As I read your book I did a lot of self-examination, searching for Joe Ehremann's aspects of a true man in myself. According to him, being a man means emphasizing relationships, having a cause bigger than myself accepting responsibility, and leading courageously. It means that empathy, integrity, and living a life of service to others are more important than points on a scoreboard. It means understanding the pain of others and what causes it. I agree wholeheartedly that true masculinity is all of these things. The academic and athletic awards sitting in my room, the number of admirers I have, and the amount of possessions I own are not going to be remembered nearly as long as my actions that impact others. Why is it that people are willing to spend several thousand dollars to attend the Super Bowl, or that Hollywood is dishing out tens of millions to create the next blockbuster? I now realize just how skewed my culture has become. I now understand that my trophies will end up dusty and uncared for, my admirers long gone, and my belongings dispersed, but my actions could live on in the lives of others.
Through your description of the extraordinary football program of the Gilman Greyhounds these messages really sank in. I realized that the key to being a successful team is the same as the key to life: love. One of the characters, Napoleon Sykes, is a perfect example of the transforming power of Coach Ehrmann's philosophies.
After Napoleon broke down in the middle of the Mount St. Joseph's game because of the death of his friend Ryan, Coach Ehrmann took him aside and prayed with him. Napoleon then proceeded to dedicate the game to Ryan and haul in a 67-yard interception. This was inspirational in itself, but during halftime Napoleon's teammates told him how much they loved him, and this again shocked me. This was football?
Your book, Season of Life contained messages of masculinity, love, and making a difference that will be sifting through my mind for a long time. The path of a true man is narrow, but in the end it will be worthwhile. Thank you for showing me the simplest answer to what it truly means to be a man: love.