I'm not sure what I am supposed to write, and that almost never happens ...
The well deserved praised and tributes to Dan Wheldon's character and career are already flowing like a river, most from people who knew Dan much better than I and all much more eloquently expressed than I could muster right now. It's all well done and well deserved -- and I'll leave it to those more capable than me.
I've been thinking about that Sept. 20 interview a lot, naturally, and I finally settled on this praise: Dan Wheldon was a nice guy. And while that sounds pretty minimal -- nice guy -- it's really astonishingly rare these days. "Nice guy" in the fullest sense of the word is someone who's respectful, polite, positive, helpful, concerned, gracious. And as I've thought about it these last 18 hours, that's the way I'd most like to be remembered as well.
Because in the final analysis -- and we've reached that, regrettably -- your athletic and artistic and business achievements are not what you'll be remembered for by those who matter to you most. They just aren't. So while Dan Wheldon was a gifted race car driver and Indy 500 champion, when the a member of the clergy asks Dan's friends and family in his or her pre-funeral interview what they remember most about Dan, I rather doubt his incredible on-the-track achievements are the first thing they mention.
And isn't that the way we all want to go out? If my survivors get the same question, I pray they don't answer with something like "he was a good writer." Because if that's all I've done, impressed them with my writing, I've failed them and myself. I'd much rather have them say "Bill was a nice guy" with all its rich meaning.
Yes, Dan Wheldon's racing resume is impressive and important and worth remembering and honoring. I don't seek to diminish that in any way. But I don't think that is who Dan Wheldon was, really. And yes, we all have off days and can act like idiots and have bits of ugliness in our lives. That's being human. Nice guys stop well short of perfect. But it's the totality of a life, with all the kindness and selfishness heaped on a scale together and measured, that matters the most.
It's not what you DO that matters in life, it's who you ARE. The quality of your relationships. The way you treat others. As far as I can tell from personal experience and the accounts rolling in, that was Dan Wheldon's real championship. And it's a positive reminder we can all take out of Dan's much-too-early departing.
Godspeed to a nice guy. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:3-5