The Florida Gators had a pretty good 2019. The football team that everyone uses as the easiest synecdoche for the athletic program and school had another 10-win, top-10 season; the university crept higher into the top 10 in the rankings of best public colleges, continuing a long run toward the most respected tiers of academia. Other teams, athletes, and alumni did even bigger things.
Yet Gator Nation suffered great loss in 2019. This year, we lost George Edmonson, originator of the “Mr. Two Bits” persona and cheer; Neiron Ball, perhaps the most resilient Florida athlete of this century; and Ed Aschoff, a Gator whose fine journalism career had only truly just begun despite his trademark kindnesses spreading far and wide.
The latter two passed away young, too young, and after illnesses, each with millions of smiles yet to bestow if only health had permitted.
Aschoff died just yesterday, on Christmas Eve — and his 34th birthday.
It is hard to think of three greater Gators. Hard to fathom these losses, for both the Gator Nation that they enriched through sustained force of spirit and the practices of hope and kindness and for the loved ones they must have helped, loved, and been loved by even more. Hard for me, this morning, to wish a merry Christmas knowing these three men aren’t here for this one.
So I challenge you to remember them like this, through action: On this Christmas, and all Christmases — and all days, if you can — give love.
Listen, more than just hear. Challenge the good to be great if you must. Support when needed; root whenever. Think hard and long. Do good out of the kindness of your heart, because it is the right thing to do. Meet darkness and despair with light and hope. Smile — for yourself, as much as those whose days you’ll brighten. Hug. Hold. Cry. Laugh.
Or, at least, we can try. And get better. And try again. And get better.
If there anything I know for certain about life, through my nearly 30 years of it, it is that it ends — and, all too frequently, without warning. The cosmos, the deities you believe in, science: Whatever or whomever controls when the day after our hyphens comes cares little for fairness, and is far beyond our grasp.
The best we can do with our one finite life, in the time in those hyphens, is the best we can do. And we should, because we can — because our best is worth doing.
Merry Christmas. Hug your people. Love your people.
Then do it again.
Rest in peace, George.
Rest in peace, Neiron.
Rest in peace, Ed.
And thank you.