Life is nothing more than a string of ‘moments’ stretching from birth to the inevitable end. What we do with them defines us. Some seize them. Some make their own. Most hustle past them unaware or ambivalent that their actions at any given time have meaning and power.
Not to go Gump on you, but in the moments that matter most in our lives, there’s no escaping it. We’re either the wind, or we’re the feather.
Moments matter. Moments birth both tragedy and greatness.
I had a moment in 1989 that changed the course of my life. In 1989, I was finishing up a 6 month rotation in Okinawa Japan, poised to leave the United States Marine Corps after a 4 year stint. I had a job lined up in a Veterinary clinic, a beautiful girlfriend I was convinced I would marry, and plans to go to Veterinary school. One little moment changed all that.
Coming back from a drunken night out in the nearby town of Henoko, a buddy snuck up on a friend and I heading back to our squad bay and took the opportunity to launch himself at me from behind, knocking me to the ground with all his 200+ lbs crashing down on me. I thought he’d just ‘knocked the wind’ out of me, but for the next 2 days I walked around oblivious that I’d suffered a collapsed lung. By the morning of the 3rd day (coincidentally, the day we were scheduled to get on an airliner and fly home), my adam’s apple was pushed to the left side of my throat and I finally had to acknowledge something was wrong. I had ‘tension pneumothorax’, a life-threatening complication, and was rushed to the hospital.
2 months, 7 or 8 chest tubes, and 1 chest surgery later, I had finally recovered. Somewhere in a haze of narcotics, anesthetics, bedrest, and bad Japanese television, I was told I’d been accepted in the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Program and agreed to accept reenlistment to go back to school and become a Marine Officer. I have absolutely no recollection of this conversation.
I finally returned home to find the girl of my dreams had moved on. Seeing no real benefit in sitting through the obligatory ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ session, I decided to leave early for San Diego, where I would spend the summer at a prep course before returning to Virginia to finish my degree. Camped out in a hotel near downtown, bored, alone, and having read every book I’d brought with me, I decided to take a stroll.
A moment was about to happen.
5 minutes into my walk in downtown San Diego and deep in thought, I turned a corner, running smack into a gentleman coming from the other direction. It was my former college roommate and best friend. Pete had decided to take a couple days off from his Marine gig in Yuma and drive out to California with his wife Lisa. After the obligatory ‘what are the odds of running into you here?’ discussion, I asked where one of Lisa’s friends, Valerie, was and what she was up to these days. Valerie was a young, beautiful, southern belle type I’d had my eyes on for a couple of years, but who was chronically boyfriended.
Valerie, I was told, had broken up with her longtime boyfriend and was living in Richmond, Virginia.
After a summer of studying and other exploits, I headed back to school at UVa. A week into my studies, my phone rang. It was Valerie. We had a nice conversation. And we’ve been married now 23 years this December.
That simple and solitary 1989 moment in Okinawa, Japan, a drunken friend doing something stupid, changed the entire course of my life.
The Washington Redskins have had their moments too.
George Allen deciding to start Billy Kilmer over Sonny Jurgensen in the 1972 Super Bowl against Miami. The Redskins lost that game, and the Dolphins made history becoming the only team to go an entire season undefeated.
Jack Kent Cooke deciding to give a relatively unknown ‘offensive genius’ from the Don Coryell school of football his first head coaching gig, and deciding to retain him despite an 0-5 start.
Joe Gibbs starting unknown rookie Timmy Smith over banged up star George Rogers in Super Bowl XXII and watching him set a Super Bowl record with 204 rushing yards and 2 touch downs.
And of course, a more recent moment in which Daniel Snyder decided to give up and bet the farm on a young man out of Baylor, one Robert Griffin III, to be his next in a long, long string of quarterbacks.
Another key moment approaches. On Monday night, the Washington Redskins will take the field with an opportunity. 3 weeks ago, these same Redskins were finished. Seemingly out of contention in the playoff race, Head Coach Mike Shanahan under fire for writing off the rest of the 2012 season, the Redskins were toast. But some special moments since, ones that lead to confident and convincing wins over two hated division rivals, have turned conventional wisdom on its ear. Suddenly, the Redskins are relevant. If they’re able to seize the moment on Monday night, and complete a divisional hat (hate?) trick, the Redskins will be legitimate playoff contenders.
In a topsy-turvy 2012 season equally full of promise and gloom, the Redskins have navigated their fair share of disaster to glimpse the greatness that could come. They’ve had their moments. Monday night, we get to see, are these Redskins the wind, or the feather?
This is their moment. And moments matter.