The Boys of Fall

Posted September 26, 2021

Originally published March 18, 2012 - Shared again with slight revsions


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From The Boys of Fall by Kenny Chesney

I had something completely different prepared for this week, yet circumstances were such that this article from nine and a half years ago came to mind. For some reason, I feel compelled to share it, again. I archived this piece along with the other couple of hundred that were what was once – and now again – a regular feature (now called “Unplugged”).

A lot of life has happened since Shawn McCarty’s untimely death. His family, friends, and I haven’t forgotten this good man. His memory and the reflections on life fostered by his passing still bear remembering so I share them again. Here is that piece:

This last week my classmates from high school and I were stunned and tremendously saddened to learn the news of the sudden, needless, accidental death of one of the football stars of our school. Shawn McCarty was only 53 years young when a vehicle swerved into the bike lane he was cycling in and snuffed out his life.

I don’t know details about why the driver did what they did. I don’t know if they were swerving to avoid being hit by another vehicle, texting, changing the station on their radio or what. Knowing this information doesn’t bring Shawn back.

If only it could.

In the last several days, I observed as many, many people expressed their shock, grief and fond memories of Shawn. Former team mates praised his skill and leadership. Friends remembered his kindness and love for fun. Girls confessed their teenaged crushes on him and young loves remembered those idyllic days of being high school sweethearts. Everyone remembered his shaved head that took the place of his blond locks when we reconnected at 30-year high school reunion five years ago.

Shawn and I were acquaintances in high school. I distinctly remember him for a couple of reasons. One, he was the boyfriend of a good friend of mine. Two, though he was a star football player and exuded the confidence usually associated with a talented athlete, his ego seemed to be in check. He showed kindness and consideration to those of us who weren’t necessarily his friend or on his team. That was evidence of a great upbringing that is a testament to his parents and that his siblings will certainly attest to. That upbringing was reinforced in Shawn by the coaching in high school of the late Earl Putnam and other equally solid people that he was blessed to have in his life. These influences made Shawn who he was and who he was is what drew people to him. People did – and do – appreciate quality of character.

As this piece posts, Shawn’s funeral would have been held yesterday. My mind was preoccupied with thoughts and prayers for the family and close friends who were there to say good-bye. No mother should have to bury a son. No marriage should abruptly end after only 5 ½ years, leaving a wife to bury her husband. Brothers and sisters shouldn’t be robbed of many years that should’ve still been shared. No new friendships should end so soon. Neither should old friendships end with so many more years of memories to be made.

If I still lived in the Valley of the Sun, I would’ve joined the countless other friends to show my support to Shawn’s family. If I could’ve been there and had the privilege to speak with Shawn’s mom, brothers and sisters, I would’ve wanted to tell them that, just like Shawn is remembered since those high school days 35 years ago, he will be remembered 35 years from now and beyond. He will not be forgotten. No, far from it.

I would’ve wanted to tell them and his wife that his multitude of friends will huddle with them, cry with them, and have their backs “when their back’s against the wall”. We’ll do so through small, individual acts of kindness and prayer during those times when they feel most alone – during those nights that get as dark as the void they now feel in their hearts. I would’ve wanted to tell them that (to paraphrase Pascal) that while there will always be a Shawn-shaped void in their hearts as well as ours; that we know that they’ll always miss him but there will eventually come the day where memories of him will be greeted with more smiles than tears and more laughter than sobs.

While that’s what I would’ve wanted to say, I suspect that what the family will really need in the days, weeks and months to come is for friends – their many, many friends – to hold their hands, cry silently with them, hug their necks and just listen, listen, and listen some more. That will happen because all the kindness Shawn showed countless people will now come back to comfort his mom, wife, brothers and sisters.

The Kenny Chesney video that is on this page is poignant for a couple of reasons. One is that, though it is footage of more recent high school teams from across the country, it can easily be the Moon Valley Rockets in a locker room 35 years ago. I’m sure that it will bring back memories in the minds of Shawn’s former team mates that only they can remember.

Another reason this video is so appropriate is that it also gives us a great message of encouragement that New Orleans Saints coach, Sean Peyton, gives his high school team at the beginning. His words remind us of how fast times flies; that life gives us gems of memories that we’re to savor as they’re happening. I would say, too, that we draw from the treasure chest of such memories when times are tough and the nights are dark and lonely. We will draw from that chest now as we grieve but we’re challenged to grab and hold on to the new gems that will continue to come into our lives.

This mist – this vapor called “life” is far too short – sometimes tragically so. Shawn’s life encourages us to live ours to the fullest as he did. In doing so, when our mist has evaporated, it will be celebrated and will encourage others to do the same.

Rest in peace, Shawn. We’ll see you on the other side of the goal line soon.