Saturday, February 25, 2017


"Up and in," Mom whispers, arcing her hands with the best shape and form she can muster to send an imaginary basketball spinning through an imaginary hoop to close out the back end of a one and one. "Up and in," Mom quietly cheers from her seat during any West Liberty University basketball game, whether that seat be in the gym or in front of the television. This is a cheer from a grandmother to her granddaughter, a cheer whose sound does not travel from a faraway seat to a free throw line as much as the love that floats from one heart to another, uninhibited by the distance it must travel.

To loosely paraphrase William Shakespeare, "all of the world's a stage" and we are "merely players," who at some time make our free throws, miss our lay-ups, celebrate our victories, and bemoan our losses. These elements of the game are all one and the same, experiences we willingly or unwillingly accept as part of some grand scheme of life. This "stage" is what draws people to the arena of sports so that we can witness how others deal with life's unpredictability and imperfections in an effort to give us some explanation for the meaning of life; however, when a person close to us takes the stage, we become more than just an audience member who simply witnesses the spectacle from a comfortable distance.

Emily has been on her stage for so long now that I can barely remember when this journey all started for her. I know that now, as the public address announcer gives her the signal for her final curtain call, my niece, Chris's sister, Jim and Lisa's daughter, and Mom's granddaughter, still possesses that heartfelt passion despite the obvious wear on her body. When Emily enters a game she has the appearance of Éowyn, the Rohan woman warrior from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, with her personal magical black armor plating protecting her limbs, uniform pressed for battle, swagger in her stare, power in her smile, and confidence in her stride. Once upon a time there was a spark in her eye, a determination for what the future would hold for her; now the spark has become a flame, an ongoing desire to be at her best for each and every game whether her body has the strength to be there or not. 

Emily's entourage is on the hilltop Saturday afternoon as friends and family from all over gather to watch Emily play her final game as a senior at West Liberty University. The entire bleacher section across from the home team bench is prepared to be part of this story as we normally are, people who have always been there, game after game, those who traveled the mountains and lowlands to bear witness to this moment, those spirits who are no longer with us as well as those loved ones who could not make the journey. This will be a tribute to Emily as much as it shall be a testimony to those who have loved and nurtured her to this point in life. We unite and support those whose values and vision mirror or serve as an extension of our own.

The game itself is a microcosm for all of us, representative not of wins or losses but about how to live life. Emily, like all of us, goes through her pregame warm-ups, readying her mind, heart, and body for the rugged pace of each awaiting opportunity. An uncertain preparedness settles in, one which acknowledges the fact that we can never really know the ebb and flow of the game ahead yet must find comfort in our preparation: we have the skills, we have the knowledge, we have the desire to meet challenges moving forward. Once the game begins, we all battle our opponents, both literal and figurative, their presence in front of us and their voices in our heads. Emily does it better than most, shaking off the errant pass or missed shot, driving down the court as she exhausts any gas she has left in the tank, expecting the next pass to hit its mark or three point shot to swish through the net. We celebrate how Emily shines on the hilltop.

On this Saturday, while Emily’s game ends sooner than she or any of us would have wished, she remains on the stage, leg wrapped in a thick towel of ice, wrapped for the game, wrapped for the season, but not wrapped for life. Emily painfully situates herself on the trainer’s table behind the team bench where only she knows what scenarios and emotions race between her heart and mind concerning the knee injury that has separated her once again, one final time, from the game she loves. Her entourage is there with her, understanding the significance of it all.

I always fall back on my favorite author Brené Brown for guidance and wisdom, hearing Brown's encouragement to be vulnerable, to allow people to see us, to wholeheartedly embrace life while creating our own narratives that can exist despite the chaos of this world. Brown writes, “Courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”

That is what Emily does for all of us; she courageously reaffirms our own thoughts on how to live our lives. We feel both her triumphs and failures, not experiencing her pain but wishing we could take a little from her so she can continue in the game. Emily is going to be fine though; Emily Bucon is tough. This game has been but a moment in her life, a life that has been filled with happiness as well as tragedy, a life that we all can have, a life that we all share. It is a world that is filled with hope and promise which has no guarantees for any of us. No guarantees but one: the opportunity to revel in the joy of courageously being on the stage, telling the story with our whole heart.  Emily reminds us all of that, and for this and more, we love her.

Thanks, Emily. 

Grandma says, “Up and in! Up and in!”

Picture Credits
Lynn Welsh, Lisa Bucon, Danielle Leggette, Google Images, me

Sunday, February 5, 2017


Mid-morning. New York City. I am walking down the street towards the Empire State Building, rolling suitcase in tow, backpack slung over both shoulders. I have no idea where to purchase my train ticket to the airport, no idea of any departure times. I just know that I want a souvenir, but eventually I will settle for one last slice of pizza.

Yeah. I am 50-something and had never been to New York City, the Big Apple. I wanted to take a bite, a huge bite, a bite so big that I swallowed the core. I did.

Pizza. Little Italy Pizza. I order a pepperoni slice and a Coke from the Italian man who managed the counter of huge pizzas situated behind that scratched, foggy glass counter. I move all of my tourist junk over to the farthest corner, the perfect spot where I can watch the people hurry up and down the street and the patrons entering the store for the $5.50 special. My back to the door, snugging up to cases of Dasani and Dr. Pepper, I am not able to go physically backwards and can only be where I am at this moment.

This. Moment.

How do I keep the feeling I attach to this place? How do I remember the taste of that folded slice of pepperoni, charred ever-so-lightly on the bottom? How do I hold on to a memory I know will begin to fade as soon as I walk out that door after tossing my paper plate and greasy napkins into the trash? I cast these questions aside as I revisit the moments of the past three days. I take a drink of Coke and the moments flood back into my mind.

I feel again that sense of wonder as I trek across downtown Manhattan, using only my phone's GPS to wind my way through the chilly streets towards Chelsea Market where my senses are overwhelmed by all the sights, sounds, and smells of Chelsea Market as the tourists and locals blend together in this marketplace of shops, handmade crafts, and restaurants.

I reunite with Pablo, a student I had taught over six years ago while I lived in North Carolina, who travels from Brooklyn to meet me at Chelsea where we continue a nearly decade-old conversation extending back to Fike High School when Pablo used to slip out of his mother's room in the morning to land in my room to sit and talk before the bell rang for school to begin.

I proudly celebrate the success of Sabrina, another North Carolina student from farther back than I begrudgingly admit, an entrepreneur and voice of her generation, a producer of her own web series The Department of Ed, a story-teller with a blessed soul who manages to flip the teacher-student paradigm back and forth with me over the next few days.

I traipse across New York with Sabrina on a "wear my walking shoes" whirlwind tour during which I experience for the first time the landmarks, the hidden recesses, the affluence, the poverty, and the living, breathing diversity, all under the protective guidance of my thoughtful guide and teacher.

Sabrina and I say our own prayers and make our own personal reflections at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, touching the palpable serenity of the pools in the footprint of the lost towers at Memorial Plaza as the cold wind and silence envelop us.

I frantically navigate the flashing lights, bustling traffic, and pressing humanity which pulses through Times Square at night, finding my way to the side street somewhere in this maze where I purchase that one glorious ticket I never thought I would hold, that ticket to Oz, a ticket to witness another tale of unlikely possibilities and friendship, a ticket to Wicked.

I fall asleep early that next morning, reluctantly pulling the blinds to the view from my hotel room, hopefully locking this moment away forever as I drift off to sleep.

So here I am. At this moment. I leave the small confines of Little Italy Pizza where I return to the street of a million possible directions. I know instinctively where to go, but I struggle. So many times I have allowed instinct to guide me out of sheer repetition. So with my suitcase in tow again, backpack dangling insecurely off of one shoulder, I sip the remaining Coke in my cup before throwing it in the trash.  I realize over the course of the past three days that while I blazed my path about this metropolis I never stopped to pick out that souvenir, a small piece of memorabilia to remind me of this adventure. I noticed the three for ten bucks ties, avoided the red "Make America Great Again" hats and Hillary bobble-heads, sifted through racks of "I 💗 NY" t-shirts, and examined palm-sized models of edifices I traveled beneath.

As I head to Penn Station, I could easily stop somewhere for one last perusal for a souvenir of this trip. I shrug then make my way down the concrete steps to purchase my train ticket to JFK, to board my plane, to fly back home. I have no need of souvenirs, none that can ever match those which I carry in my own memory.

Pablo and I - Google Hallway
Photo Credit: Pablo

Google Headquarters
Photo Credit: Pablo

Sabrina, Alzo Slade (star of Ed), and I
The Department of Ed Premiere
Photo Credit: Pablo

9/11 Memorial Museum

9/11 Memorial Museum

Photo Credit: Sabrina

Thanks to Pablo and Sabrina for helping me take some great pictures and sharing yours with me. You are the best! Thanks for taking the time to make my trip so incredible.