Rick Reilly is on assignment this week. The following column
appeared in the April 12, 1999, issue.
So we were lying on our backs on the grass in the park next to
our hamburger wrappers, my 14-year-old son and I, watching the
clouds loiter overhead, when he asked me, "Dad, why are we here?"
And this is what I said.
"I've thought a lot about it, son, and I don't think it's all
that complicated. I think maybe we're here just to teach a kid
how to bunt, turn two and eat sunflower seeds without using his
"We're here to pound the steering wheel and scream as we listen
to the game on the radio, 20 minutes after we pulled into the
garage. We're here to look all over, give up and then find the
ball in the hole.
"We're here to watch, at least once, as the pocket collapses
around John Elway, and it's fourth-and-never. Or as the count
goes to 3 and 1 on Mark McGwire with bases loaded, and the
pitcher begins wishing he'd gone on to med school. Or as a little
hole you couldn't get a skateboard through suddenly opens in
front of Jeff Gordon with a lap to go.
"We're here to wear our favorite sweat-soaked Boston Red Sox cap,
torn Slippery Rock sweatshirt and the Converses we lettered in,
on a Saturday morning with nowhere we have to go and no one
special we have to be.
"We're here to rake on a jack-high nothin' hand and have nobody
know it but us. Or get in at least one really good brawl, get a
nice shiner and end up throwing an arm around the guy who gave it
"We're here to shoot a six-point elk and finally get the f-stop
right, or to tie the perfect fly, make the perfect cast, catch
absolutely nothing and still call it a perfect morning.
"We're here to nail a yield sign with an apple core from half a
block away. We're here to make our dog bite on the same lame fake
throw for the gazillionth time. We're here to win the stuffed
bear or go broke trying.
"I don't think the meaning of life is gnashing our bicuspids over
what comes after death but tasting all the tiny moments that come
before it. We're here to be the coach when Wendell, the one whose
glasses always fog up, finally makes the only perfect backdoor
pass all season. We're here to be there when our kid has three
goals and an assist. And especially when he doesn't.
"We're here to see the Great One setting up behind the net, tying
some poor goaltender's neck into a Windsor knot. We're here to
watch the Rocket peer in for the sign, two out, bases loaded,
bottom of the career. We're here to witness Tiger's lining up the
22-foot double breaker to win and not need his autograph
afterward to prove it.
"We're here to be able to do a one-and-a-half for our grandkids.
Or to stand at the top of our favorite double-black on a
double-blue morning and overhear those five wonderful words:
'Highway's closed. Too much snow.' We're here to get the Frisbee
to do things that would have caused medieval clergymen to burn us
at the stake.
"We're here to sprint the last 100 yards and soak our shirts and
be so tired we have to sit down to pee.
"I don't think we're here to make SportsCenter. The really good
stuff never does. Like leaving Wrigley at 4:15 on a perfect
summer afternoon and walking straight into Murphy's with half of
section 503. Or finding ourselves with a free afternoon, a little
red 327 fuel-injected 1962 Corvette convertible and an unopened
map of Vermont's back roads.
"We're here to get the triple-Dagwood sandwich made, the
perfectly frosted malted-beverage mug filled and the football
kicked off at the very second your sister begins tying up the
phone until Tuesday.
"None of us are going to find ourselves on our deathbeds saying,
'Dang, I wish I'd spent more time on the Hibbings account.' We're
going to say, 'That scar? I got that scar stealing a home run
from Consolidated Plumbers!'
"See, grown-ups spend so much time doggedly slaving toward the
better car, the perfect house, the big day that will finally make
them happy when happy just walked by wearing a bicycle helmet two
sizes too big for him. We're not here to find a way to heaven.
The way is heaven. Does that answer your question, son?"
And he said, "Not really, Dad."
And I said, "No?"
And he said, "No, what I meant is, why are we here when Mom said
to pick her up 40 minutes ago?"
Update: My son, Kellen, turned 18 last week, but he still asks me
questions like that. In fact, he was down in the basement with
his girlfriend the other night when I came down a little
unexpectedly. The two of them were sitting on the couch, and I
just stared at them awkwardly for a second. And finally he said,
"Dad, why are you here?" --R.R.
B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER
"The meaning of life isn't gnashing our bicuspids over what comes
after death but tasting the tiny moments that come before it."