I recently was passed on an article that was written about the Ivy League that caused a small ripple in social media circles. To give it a brief synopsis, the article centered around the concept that Ivy League schools perpetuates a notion of achievement that culminates in a great deal of well resumed young adults roaming through it’s leaf covered campuses, swelling with accomplishment but struggling with little direction or substance.
I could relate to some of what the article centered on; Yale did draw a large contingent of achievement-driven personas, that at times seemed so drawn to a faraway notion of success, that sometimes the human element was left hanging in its wake.
As someone that came from a place that the Ivy League was not something striven towards, after I arrived at Yale and heard stories from friends about their tortuous, stressful march towards their Ivy League mecca, I felt grateful for being ignorant enough to scribble my application essays the night before they were due, and gathered teacher’s recommendations oblivious to their implications.
And there were many times, although a hard-working, driven individual myself, that I felt that I didn’t fit in. This to me was none more obvious than the night of my first heartbreak when I went to my (at the time) best friend’s dorm room for some comfort, only to be stiff armed by the roommate that she sent out in her absence because she had a really big biology test the next day and didn’t want her studying disturbed.
Even through my tears I had to laugh with some admiration that she could be so focused on accomplishment that she couldn’t take five minutes to give her best friend a hug. I tell that story sometimes when I try and explain why I spent a good part of my time at Yale not really feeling like my values matched up with those around me, and what made me question accomplishment when A’s held more importance than being a good friend to those around you.
As my life has wound on and I’ve had some more time to ponder and experience things and look back on what I feel proud about and what I remember, it’s becoming clearer to me that what we are told is important to accomplish and what really is, reside on two completely different swaths of reality.
I have a really good friend named Aimee. She has a blog and you can get more of a picture of just how rad she is here
Aimee was a big personality, and someone that I was afraid of in high school. This fear came about after a high school dance, where one of the group of Persian girls that I hung out with, came running out of a dance saying that she was going to fight a girl named Aimee who I only knew as the best friend of one of the girls on my soccer team. The fight never happened but the fear remained, until I spoke to the lovely lady that worked in the guidance office at my school, Aimee’s mom.
One day in my senior year she told me that her daughter, who when she was not impersonating Muhammad Ali was a champion skier, had, after taking the year off to ski, been offered a ski scholarship to the University of Colorado. She gave me her email address and told me that I should get in touch with her, and within the first few weeks of our contact, I had found a soul sister.
Aimee’s family was somewhat of a legend in our neighborhood as all 4 kids alone would have been any family’s dream child. Her brother’s Strachan and Wyatt both played football at university while Aimee’s little sister was a 3-time Olympian and World Champion springboard diver. Aimee was no slouch herself, and casually won 2 NCAA Downhill Ski Championships at the University of Colorado. They were all straight A students and were a family that I loved going over to eat dinner with the times that Aimee and I were home from university and attached at the hip.
Aimee and I laugh still at my favorite story with her older brother Strachan. Strachan had just gotten rejected from medical school, and Aimee and I incredulous of a Canadian university system that could reject a bilingual, university football national champion who was a model citizen and straight A student were telling Strachan, who was ready to give up, that we weren’t going to let him. He humoured us as we lit into him with all our idealism and optimism combined, that by the end of the conversation had caused either him or us to pronounce ourselves the Children of the Stars for our wildly optimistic views on life.
Strachan ended up doing a masters degree, and getting into medical school, where he met his dream girl Chloe.
And then, months before his medical school graduation at age 30, he was diagnosed with cancer.
“Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma” Aimee pronounced when she told me as I sat in stunned silence on the other side of the line. “It’s the best kind you can get, it has a 95% cure rate.” Aimee moved from South Africa where she had been living to Montreal to help push her brother through it in a beautiful display of the power and love of siblinghood.
Yet Strachan was in the 5%. And with the same clarity of Aimee’s first call, I remember the phone call when the innocent world of everything always being ok came crashing to the end. Aimee sat sobbing into the other line telling me that Strachan’s diagnosis had been deemed terminal.
With a sheer twist of fate, around the same time, after dealing with a bad soccer situation in Vancouver and deciding I didn’t want to stay there that summer, I got an offer from Ottawa, and within days found myself only 2 hours away from Strachan and Aimee, and the rest of their family that had come together for what would be his final months.
And where only a few years before I had sat around the Hartley family dinner-table debating with my friend’s older brother the merits of persevering to accomplish his goal, that summer of 2007 I found myself invited to what everyone knew would likely be the last family time together with Strachan as the doctors had told the family that Strachan was close to the end.
We spent a night reminiscing, laughing and sharing stories, and Strachan, although he had verbalized not wanting to die, was a pillar of beauty and grace and strength as the most unjust verdict lay before him.
The next morning, I happened to be up early with Strachan, when after not having an appetite for days, he said that he was craving an English muffin.
With the excitement in his appetite of someone who had just struck gold, I offered to go out and get him some English muffins. I jumped in the car and headed out to the first shop I saw, when I realized that I was in the thick of Quebec, where no one spoke English, and I was going to have to try and explain “English muffin.” I went to multiple shops in a very entertaining game of charades mixed with Frenglish, and no success until one woman finally got me, “Muffin Anglais!”
Why of course, it couldn’t have been more obvious….muffin anglais.
And so I headed back with my bag of English muffins, and gave it to my friend Strachan who enjoyed his first meal in days, given back something that we all take for granted, our appetite.
Less than a month later, with so much life left to live, Strachan passed away.
The thought still, just over seven years later, brings tears streaming down my face in just thinking how he was pulled from this universe when his fingers still gripped all that it had to offer. And yet, while the cancer ravaged his body, I am happy that my last memory of him was the day of the muffin anglais when him and Aimee dropped me off in downtown Montreal to head back to Ottawa. For the first time since I had seen him again, he had color in his face, and he looked happy and relaxed. I told myself that if this was the last time I’d see him, it was how I wanted to remember him. And it is.
And he lives on in the amazing foundation his family has started, and in teaching me one of the more important lessons that I have learned in life that I thought about on a long ride to Michigan over the last few days with a bunch of teenage girls filled with their own dreams.
We’re inundated with messages from society about what is important. What matters. How selfish we should be in how we spend our time.
And yet, as the years pass on, and situations play out, and you pick through your memory of the things that you remember and that truly matter, I become more convinced that one of the most important things in this journey called life, is serving others:
To give without expectation of return, to give love to others without needing it to be an exchange and to use our position of privilege to help others achieve their own dreams.
And while it may not fit the description of success in the article about the Ivy League above, thirteen years after my Yale graduation, scoring a bag of “muffin anglais” in Eastern Quebec would suffice as one of my most worthy accomplishments. In fact it’s one of the achievements that stand out to me in terms of how good that it made me feel.
It’s the thought of doing that for Strachan that spurred me to drive three of my players to Michigan this weekend for a College ID camp, when most people thought that I was crazy, and one of the ways that no matter if he is here or not, his spirit and the lessons his death taught me, will always live on.
Here’s a shot from the drive to Michigan with my little homies this past weekend