I'll always have the indelible memory Bella Olsen left with me
I met Bella Olsen once.
I will never forget her.
I will never forget what she taught me and her means in doing so.
And it was with unspeakable sorrow that I learned of her recent death.
Bella died last week in a single car crash in Rhode Island. She was 19. There are no words. But there sure are memories and an enduring lesson I’ll carry with me forever.
It was not on the soccer field (she played at Ledyard High) where the old sports guy here encountered her. It was actually during a dance competition two years ago.
Bella and I were both part of a local “Dancing With The Stars” at Waterford High in March of 2018. I danced with a partner and Bella danced with a group. If you know me, you know I’d pretty much side with Cicero, who once said, “no one dances sober, unless he is insane.”
But, you know, we were on school grounds, meaning the euphoric nectar was verboten. Cue my sweaty palms, raging heartbeat and That Little Voice becoming louder than a chainsaw.
I’d seen her the night before during dress rehearsal knock it out of the park during “Hollaback Girl.” She was fearless. She was funny. She was a show unto herself. She taught me something that author Brene Brown put into words for me not long after: “Vulnerability is not about winning or losing. It’s having the courage to show up even when you can’t control the outcome.”
The courage to show up even when you can’t control the outcome.
And me dancing is about the most real-life definition of not being able to control the outcome in the history of the universe.
Bella’s personality mesmerized me. She danced in a group with my friend Mena Buscetto to “Hollaback Girl.” (They were brilliant.) After dress rehearsal, I went up to Mena and I said, “Jeez, Meen, who is THAT?”
“That’s Bella,” Mena said. “Isn’t she awesome?”
And so it was a few minutes before showtime and I was letting That Little Voice win. Petrified. Until I texted a friend in the audience who gave me a pep talk about being myself and having fun. Just what I needed. That’s also when I remembered Bella’s fearlessness from dress rehearsal.
I realized that to distract the audience from my lack of rhythm, I needed to make them laugh. So I got a little goofy on stage and tried to put on a show. It worked. I made them laugh. But it would never have happened without learning a lesson in vulnerability from some high school kid.
The older I get, the more I realize kids can teach us a whole lot about a lot of things if we’re just willing to open our hearts and close our mouths.
I wish there was something profound I could tell you to explain Bella Olsen’s death at 19. But I can tell you that a part of her will live on through me — and many others — until the day I drop. I’ve read and studied a lot in the past year about courage and vulnerability. You can’t have one without the other. But it’s one thing to read the words on a page. It’s another to see them acted out in front of you.
I met Bella briefly after the show and thanked her. She bore the look of someone thinking, “who is this bald old guy and why is he thanking me?” I wish I was a little more specific that night. I’ve never met a more bright light of a spirit.
I wish Bella’s family peace. She did quite a bit in her 19 years, showing us a light for the way belying her age. It’s not easy being vulnerable. But Bella Olsen gave me the lesson of a lifetime. I carry it with me every day.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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