Joe Paterno, Ex Memoria Veritas

Out of memory, truth. A beautiful video tribute to Joe Paterno set to Rudyard Kipling’s “If” to mark the one year anniversary of his death.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Mark Dent, meanwhile, wrote a rather nice piece on “Joe Paterno, one year later: Preserving a legacy“. Aside from a few oddities in the article that belie Mark Dent’s status as an out-of-towner (like referring to the State College Borough repeated as the “city”) the piece is a good introduction to the historical context from which Coach Paterno sprang. Better, in many ways, than even Joe Posnanski’s rapidly timeworn and conflicted pseudo-hagiography. Dent writes:

Of all the places in the world, Paterno lived in this town. Of all the neighborhoods in this town, he lived three blocks from campus in this one-story house. A million-dollar man lived like he still made the $20,000 he claimed he did in 1969, when the games always started in the afternoon, the coaches ate and drank with everyone else at the Tavern, and Paterno wanted a place to raise his growing family, a place to call home. …

There was no gate at the street’s entrance, and no security guard to check for identification, read license plate numbers or scan names on a guest list. The leader of one of college football’s best teams surveyed his kingdom from a ranch house.

College football coaches don’t live like this — current Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, for example, lives in Boalsburg, several miles from campus in a house that cost $1,225,000. Only the ancient coaches did. Penn State’s Bob Higgins had a house just up the street, near McKee and Adams Avenue, in the 1930s. Joe Bezdek, who coached one year in 1949, lived near McKee and Mitchell Avenue, a block away. Paterno was like them, residing in a bygone era.

When reporters came from around the country to share his story with a national audience, they highlighted the house. Sometimes they sat across from him at the round table in the kitchen. They remarked: “You should see his house. Then you would know this is real, this is not an act.”

You should see his house. You would know this is real. This is not an act.

Paterno was like the coaches of old, sure. But living in a real neighborhood and being a real person, so to speak, isn’t a symptom of “residing in a bygone era” as Dent writes. No, Paterno didn’t reside in a bygone era — he resided in our era, except he chose to carry the style and manner of those “ancient coaches” along with him. And, critically, it’s much of what attracted us to him. He chose not to let the old ways recede into a quaint and pointless nostalgia. He chose to live them.

At some point, reminiscing over the greatness of the past, the good old days, and bygone times shifts from a virtuous exercise into a vice — this moment occurs when we repeatedly choose to praise goodness without learning how to emulate it. We might be stating truth in saying that “water is wet,” but if we’ve forgotten the joy of jumping in the water and actually getting wet, we’ve entered the realm of harmful nostalgia.

The trick is this: We can live in the same style and manner. We can make friends, and build our kingdoms, and coach each other along in the game of life. And even if we become the million-dollar man we can choose not to live like the money has changed us because in reality it hasn’t changed us — only our circumstances.

If the ideas that have given Joe and Sue Paterno the power to attract us with authenticity — You should see his house. You would know this is real. — are dead, then our lives are only destined to ever become a part of a pointless nostalgia.

Ifif… if we want to honor Joe and Sue Paterno, we can choose like they chose to carry the style and manner of old times into new times. We can be human to one another. We can choose not to forget our roots; not to isolate ourselves; not to fall into artifice; not to withdraw.

It’s a choice not between whatever we decide is “bygone” or “modern,” but over whatever we choose to make real in our own lives.