My two greatest personal memories of Joe Paterno, our beloved JoePa, play on loop for me today.
Walking home from class one chilly November afternoon, my tiny Freshman self stared at the ground as I ran through the stress inducing to-do list growing in my mind. As I began to cross the street I looked up just in time to see a car turning the corner. Instantly I recognized the driver, who slowed to allow my safe crossing, as the infamous football coach of my new school. In a moment of "wow!", I awkwardly waved to Coach Paterno (you know what kind of wave I'm talking about--the floopy handed, far too rapid, could cause an injury variety); shit eating grin spread wide across my face. I'd wager to say I probably even mouthed "It's JoePa!".
Much to my deep delight, Coach waved back....equally as vigorously, with a huge, mid-chuckle smile. We continued to smile, wave and laugh at one another until he turned the next corner. Then I stood on the curb feeling my spirits lifted. I stood on the curb feeling warm and comforted, for it had genuinely felt as if we both had just seen seen an old friend.
Joe's always kind of felt like an old friend in that way, hasn't he?
A few years later while participating in Penn State's Dance Marathon (THON) the crowds were treated to a pep-talk from Coach Paterno.
Joe took the stage to rousing applause and cheers, as he waved his hands and scrunched his face in that "please, please, this is unnecessary" way he had about him. He reached the mic, looked around the room (where we all waited with baited breath to hear him speak) and said, "Boy....I gotta tell ya....you kids....you kids are great." He spoke to us on the magnitude of our charity event, of the impact and importance, with the same level of awe and respect granted to him from every person in the athletic (and non-athletic, for that matter) community. He told us that this event was the definition of what being a Penn Stater really meant. He told us we were brave and strong and good. He told us, simply, that he was proud of us. Not a soul in the room doubted he meant what he said--we felt his kindness, love and respect. We felt warm and comforted. We felt our spirits lift.
Joe's always had that humbling, encouraging way about him, hasn't he?
For Joe, I find the Prayer of St. Francis to be especially fitting today:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Rest in peace, Coach. We are so sad to see you go and so sorry if you felt at all during your final moments that our community had anything but great love and admiration for you. I hope you were surrounded by family and loved ones; I hope you were feeling the energy of Penn Staters around the world wishing you well. Thank you for your generous contributions that came in every form, shape and color to our family. The sign near your highly photographed Beaver Stadium statue doesn't lie; you were an educator, coach and humanitarian.
Joe Paterno, you were a deeply good man.
For you, I bleed a little extra blue and white. For you, I proudly wear my favorite Penn State hoodie today--the one my dad bought for me during my Freshman orientation weekend 10 years ago. The one that is certainly worn and faded, yet still manages to also be warm and comforting. The one that lifts my spirits each time I pull it over my head.
Sending extra love and light to your family, Coach.