I almost cried. I opened my laptop and toggled over to espn.com to get my quick sports update fix. And that’s when I saw it. A picture of Junior Seau below which were two dates and a dash (1969-2012). Obviously, two dates and a dash is bad news. I was stunned. Scanning the headline and article only added to the pain. Police were saying that it appeared to be a suicide, something I’d still love to believe is not true.
Having lived in New England for most of the last twenty-two years and having been a Patriots fan for that same stretch, I was very familiar with Seau as a football player. When he came to the Pats in 2006, I thought he’d be a great veteran addition, and he was just that. He became a huge fan favorite. Seeing him on my t.v. screen, he seemed to exude a love of football and life itself. I loved Junior Seau.
When commentators talked about Seau, common themes surfaced: outstanding football player, great teammate, Southern California boy, surfer. Not surprisingly, then, the first t.v. piece on his death that I saw had the backdrop of his California home and the beautiful beach across the street where he would surf and hang out.
The newscasters talked about that beautiful setting and the ideal life Junior lived: beachfront home, regular surfing, beloved native son, all the stuff someone could ever want. Their repeat adjective for Seau’s life was “idyllic,” which is what had them scrambling to figure out why he might have taken his own life.
Listening to them, I felt a different kind of sadness… an ache for the pervasive, but misguided idea that abundance and pleasure and beautiful things produce happiness and contentment. Mind you, I’m not positing the reason why Seau may have decided to end his life. That’s impossible to say. What I am saying is that an idyllic life doesn’t automatically produce a satisfied life.
Someone far wiser than I said: “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Jesus, The Bible, Luke 12:15, NIV) For years, I had heard that quote from Jesus, and I thought I believed it…until my first trip to Ethiopia in 2010.
On that trip, we spent some significant time with people in Jido, a rural village in Central Ethiopia. I will tell you this. No American reporter would describe life in Jido as “idyllic.” Very limited access to drinkable water, erratic food supply, tiny huts, no high school (something some friends are trying to help change), limited medical care…you get the idea.
And yet…the people there were remarkably happy and joyful. To be honest, it caught me off guard, and that’s when I realized that how much I had bought into the “idyllic life” myth. Subtly, I had slipped into thinking that people with almost no things would obviously not be happy, contented people. I was clearly wrong. Jesus was right.
The good life is about something more than simply living in a beautiful place and having lots of nice things. Maybe more than anything, I needed to be reminded of that. I just wish the reminder hadn’t come in such a painful way.
The San Diego Charger’s organization, for whom Seau played football thirteen memorable years, issued a statement in which they appealed: “we ask everyone to stop what they are doing and send their prayers to Junior and his family.” I am praying for grace for this heartbroken family.