As I write this, a red fox is screaming off in the distance outside, reminding me that life will always go on as usual somewhere. This is a valuable thing to keep in mind when one has lived through November of 2011.
Anyway, when Joe Paterno died, I was already in a self-imposed exile from the Internet. It’s not that I was afraid of arguing or anything, but, being fairly familiar with the way news items work nowadays, I knew that the sheer mass of opinions – many of them silly, almost all of them ignorant – was going to be too great to tolerate. I wanted something like quiet contemplation and/or mourning, not whatever you want to call the thing the media does. The media doesn’t care about increasing understanding, it doesn’t even really care about reporting the news anymore. I guess it cares mostly about making money, but what really matters to me is the end result: a distinct lack of any awareness regarding the facts and their implications.
Shortly after Joe Paterno died, Jtothep told me via email something like this: people at our little blog miss you and respect your opinions, particularly your well-established love for Joe Paterno, so you should write a eulogy or something like a eulogy. I told him I would write something, but I told him it would take a while. So here I am - and here you are if you haven’t moved on in fear of a post filled with rambling and nonsensical links to Waylon Jennings videos.
Also, jtot encouraged me to post lots of Waylon Jennings videos, so here is a Waylon Jennings song about the Penn State Board of Trustees:
Now, I have spent a fairly long time attempting to write something about the Grand Experiment’s meaning on a large scale. But I have found that this man Paterno, whose methods for teaching young men how to live good lives were simple, was so complex and the potential philosophical implications of his Experiment and his beliefs so much like a spider’s web, with strands going everywhere, that I cannot write anything that really satisfies me. Perhaps I’ll try again years from now, with more experience and a greater ability to make the complex understandable to my mind. Though I have come a long way from my childhood days, when I named a duck Joe and loved Penn State simply because my Dad loved Penn State (not that that’s a bad reason, in honesty), there is, for me, difficulty in making things concise and clear. He’s only been gone a couple of months now.
How can I speak for Paterno’s actions and beliefs?
I deeply long for others to understand Joe Paterno. As one of the greatest Americans, he deserves to be understood. The best thing I can say, to the unknowing outsider in particular, is to be open-minded. Remember that a man is not so simple a person as he may seem to you. The wise among us will recognize that a man’s life is meant to be sized up fairly.
If, however, I must leave one thing to say about Joe Paterno’s influence on me, if I am to point towards one thing, it is this: he taught me that adversity – specifically, losing – is something to be welcomed and accepted as an instrument for betterment.
Losing sucks, and I hate it. Paterno so much as says, in his autobiography, "God, I hate losing." It tore me up inside so much whenever Penn State lost a football game just as it drives me nuts when I make a personal mistake of some kind. Even after philosophically readying for it, I utterly despised watching Penn State lose a football game. But losing is a part of life. Without losing, one risks becoming complacent. And when one becomes complacent, one starts losing in ways that are more painful and more damaging.
It’s as simple as this: how can you know success if you don’t know failure? Home becomes more meaningful when one is far away. Honesty is shown in all its importance when one’s surrounded by liars. A faithful lover is missed dearly when one is cheated by … THE TAKER! Boom, another Waylon song.
Anyhow, you get the point. We understand success after understanding failure.
Penn State football exists, above all, so that the student-athletes are prepared to be leaders in America. Do you believe that? If you answer yes, then you must accept that Penn State will lose some games. They might even lose a lot of games once in a while. Keep your head high and your mind grounded.
What I loved about Paterno in regards to losing was how his philosophy enabled him to fight as fiercely as Chesty Puller against defeat. One should accept losing as a distinct possibility, but never accept it as a permanent affair (a thing that is easy to do for the football team and easy to do in our personal lives without even realizing it). We are imperfectible. We cannot achieve everything we desire, regardless of whether that which we desire is good or bad. Still, we are called to try our absolute best to be victorious. We accept that we’ll lose the small battles now and then, learn from them, and use our acquired knowledge to win the war, if you will; that is, we will "inhabit our full humanity" (I saw this cute, really vague, kinda post-modern phrase once and I love how it becomes meaningful for me when in the context of Paterno’s Experiment) and become a well-rounded, morally upright, honorable, and decent person. For the Penn State football player, a lost game represents the small battle used to teach him life skills necessary for excelling in life, that thing which is vastly more important than any game. So believed Paterno, the man with a sense of calling inspired by Christianity and Virgil. And so I believe.
I don’t know what Bill O’Brien believes. Frankly, I suspect that whatever he believes is probably satisfactory for my purposes: maintaining Penn State football’s place as a bastion of integrity and learning for kids who, at another institution, might just be football players instead of leaders.
I care more for the soul of Penn State’s supporters. There were many who saw Paterno as a relic primarily because Penn State was not, they believed, competing at the highest level. Paterno should retire if Penn State could not compete at that highest level. Though there was some truth in their arguments, I disagreed. That fight is, sadly, pointless now with the BoT coup d’etat and, less bitterly, with the passing of Coach Paterno. I bring it up because if a) O’Brien believes that winning every game is less important than the real mission of Penn State football, then b) a bloc of supporters who do not agree is bound to end in a disaster that would break my heart again.
No solutions come to my mind for fixing Penn State’s administration. Whatever.
Anymore, I care about two things: 1) Preserving Penn State football in the form contemplated, birthed, nurtured, and raised to maturity by Joseph V. Paterno. 2) Living with the philosophy of Paterno always kept in mind. I mean to be as much like a Penn State football player and Joe himself as possible: a good American.