Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Rutted Road to Finishing Well

This week I wrote about an American icon, Dr. Billy Graham, who marked his 93rd birthday. Despite the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s Disease, the revered evangelist has remained steadfast in his resolve to live for Christ and proclaim Him to others. By all accounts, he is finishing well.

Also this week, another American icon, legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, has been the focus of much attention. Unfortunately, the spotlight has been not nearly as flattering for “Joe Pa.”

The all-time winningest coach at the big-time college level, the 84-year-old Paterno is now facing harsh scrutiny and criticism. He failed to be more forthright upon learning of his longtime No. 1 assistant and once “heir apparent,” Jerry Sandusky, sexually abusing young boys over many years. New developments in this scandal seem to be unfolding by the hour.

Wednesday Paterno announced he will retire at the end of this season. In a formal statement, he expressed regrets about the sad drama and said, “I wish I had done more.”

“I wish I had done more.” That reminded me of the powerful film, “Schindler’s List.” It’s about Oscar Schindler, a prosperous businessman who undertook a courageous strategy to save as many Jews as possible from the Nazi concentration camps. Despite having intervened to save hundreds of Jews from certain death, in a closing scene he laments, “I wish I had done more.”

Unlike Schindler, who acted at great risk and personal cost (even though not a Jew), it appears Paterno did little more than the bare minimum. With almost mythical status and power in his community, the coach certainly didn’t need to wait for his athletic director or other officials to act. Legally, it seems, Paterno had covered his bases – but morally, he could have done more. Much more.

Now, because he didn’t, numerous young men will carry scars from their encounters with a predatory adult for years, even a lifetime.

But beneath the horror of this specific tale lies a profound truth: It’s relatively easy to start well – it’s finishing well that’s problematic. The road is rutted, filled with potholes, but it’s the course we each must follow. A noble life, characterized by kind and charitable acts, can still become derailed if we’re not careful.

It’s not a matter of being judgmental. Just as poet Robert Frost wrote, I still have “miles to go before I sleep.” And if my life has any meaningful legacy at all, it can’t be tarnished by stupid decisions – or indecision – even late in my life.

That’s probably why, at the close of his life, the apostle Paul wrote – maybe with a sigh of relief – “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

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