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Lesson learned: Shut up and be grateful

East Lyme — Pettiness and self-indulgence rarely have their place in public or otherwise, although it never seems to stop many of us. I was certainly ready for my turn with both Tuesday night until a measure of perspective stung me like a wasp.

My writing assignment was a girls' high school lacrosse game at East Lyme High. I arrived about 10 minutes before it began and ambled up to the press box, where I planned to sit, as I have for the last 30 years during such occasions.

I was told by the ranking official inside that I wasn't allowed to be in there.

Intellectually, I knew why: A COVID precaution. But emotionally, I found it absurd that 1) I could have stayed six feet away from everybody else; 2) the press box is partitioned; 3) I could have opened any number of windows; 4) I had a mask; 5) I've been vaccinated; and 6) it is, by definition, a PRESS box. I am the press. If I don't have a place there, who does? It's like evicting Dracula from Transylvania.

Seething would be one way to have described my innards. Really seething would be another. And yet just as Vesuvius was about to blow, I thought of Paul Dagle.

Paul and I visited before the game. He is an old friend. We had many a laugh on the East Lyme football sidelines in the old days. Paul had a table at the gate Tuesday night with information about Brian T. Dagle Foundation, which offers healing, hope and support to people grieving the loss of a loved one or struggling through the uncertainties of life.

Paul and Ann lost their son, Brian, to suicide in 2011. Nobody ever knew the depths of his depression and anxiety. The foundation has helped countless people find their way in the last 10 years. This was also the annual Lax4Life game at East Lyme, highlighting a national program raising awareness for suicide prevention in young adults and adolescents.

I thought to myself: Not only would a tantrum about something as trivial as a press box seat be inappropriate for the night's setting and tenor, but disrespectful to Paul, who experienced something far, far worse in this life than some minor inconvenience.

So I kept my mouth shut and went about my way.

Oh, if the story had just ended there. But this is the way my brain works: I am Catholic and Italian, which means I was taught at a young age all the tricks and ways to feel guilty about anything.

So, of course, I did.

The residual effects of the Tantrum I Never Had managed to stay in my thoughts. Because after Paul and Ann Dagle, I thought of the many friends of Sean Madden I'd encountered in recent days. Sean, a fixture at New London High for many years, died of health complications at 55 the other day. I didn't know him well. Yet friends have rained hosannas on him as few in this city of hard markers ever have on anybody else.

I thought to myself: You're peeved over a press box seat while Madden's family and friends grieve his passing?

Then I thought of Jack Chaplin. "Daddy Jack," as he was known to many of us, died earlier this week at 62. He was our own celebrity chef, a good man who once responded to a column about the football-playing Harshberger boys in Waterford by making a video (with the kids) of actual Harshberger burgers, with enough beef, cheese and jalapenos to feed parts of Cleveland.

And I thought: You're peeved over a press box seat while Jack's family grieves?

Ah, but the night wasn't over. The worst was yet to come. It was around 9 p.m. that I learned of Frank Mangual's sudden passing. Frank was in his 50s and recently retired from the Department of Corrections. Good dude. Big into the Neal Hoelck Basketball Tournament. I got to know him through watching his kids, Lexi and Jake, play high school sports. I am heartbroken. He always made me laugh.

And I thought: You're peeved over a press box seat while Frank's family grieves?

I didn't sleep very well Tuesday.

I guess maybe we could all use a little more self-awareness in our lives. Because the Dagles, Maddens, Chaplins and Manguals unwittingly reiterated a lesson to me Tuesday night: Life's too damn short to go around practicing effrontery over truly meaningless things. So shut up and be grateful for what you have.

I went back and read an old column about Brian Dagle and found this excerpt from high school friend Kevin Miao, who posted the following lyric from Brooks & Dunn after Brian's death:

"I can't quote the book, the chapter or the verse. But you can't tell me it all ends in a slow ride in hearse. I know I'm more and more convinced, the longer that I live that this can't be, no this can't be all there is."

Fact is, there's so much more. Sometimes, we're reminded of it with lessons we won't soon forget.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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