As spring training for Major League Baseball approaches, the baseball news is a little sparse—so one not-so baseballish item got a lot of attention this past week. Curt Schilling, a former pitcher and current broadcaster, announced he has cancer.
Bear with me non-baseball fans, because this isn’t about baseball—but you should probably know a couple things about Schilling. He was a terrific pitcher. He’s always loved the limelight, and he clearly loves the sound of his own voice, or the sight of his words in print. He’s a real PITA, IMHO.
That he announced his illness is neither here nor there—unless you know his propensity for attention—and then you know he’s going to milk it. Fair enough. Cancer sucks, so if it helps him in some way, fine. (Though some cancer sucks a lot worse than others, and he didn’t mention what kind he has.) But the announcement wasn’t enough for the verbally incontinent Schilling. He just had to throw this in:
“My father left me with a saying that I’ve carried my entire life and tried to pass on to our kids: ‘Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.’…
OK, I get the desire for rah-rah pep talks that some people need. And when you blab as much as Schilling does, it’s inevitable that much of what you say is stupid. But really, you have to say something like that?
Because it implies very directly that folks that don’t last through cancer—people like our friend Sheelagh or my sister Kris, for example—weren’t tough. (I can tell you, in any contest other than pitching, either would kick Schilling’s ass).
I’m singling out Schilling—but he’s hardly alone in oafishness. We have some sort of perverse need for these aphorisms. I don’t know if it’s out of fear or awkwardness or whatever, but people manage to say the worst, least helpful things in the face of difficulties. I know this first hand. When Beth lost her sight, and a year later when Gus was diagnosed with his genetic disorder, I heard ‘em all. I’ve blocked most of them out. But the classic “God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle” was among them. My favorite, though, came from, of all people, a social worker. I think she meant it as a compliment. I don’t know.
Anyway, she took me aside after we’d had dinner with her and her husband, and said, “You know, other men would’ve left.”
Ay yay yay yay yay. I’m not sure whether she thought I was a saint or an idiot. And I don’t even want to start about what it said about what she thought about Beth. Or about my fellow males.
I know that she was not a malicious person. And I’m pretty sure Curt Schilling for all his hot air, isn’t either. I also know there is always a tendency to want to say something that helps. And it’s awkward for everyone. But in those times, it’s probably best to stop, take a breath, and say…nothing. Sometimes that’s the best you can do.