For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
— Ecclesiastes 3:1-3
Jim Valvano was the legendary men’s basketball coach at North Carolina State University in the 1980s. As a Duke student, I had plenty of occasion to root against Jimmy V. But I admired his passion for the game, his love of life, and his devotion to his family and team.
Valvano is best remembered for his jubilant run around the court just after his Wolfpack won the national championship in 1983. For many people, his most memorable moment came as he was dying of cancer. Against the advice of his doctors and accompanied by his family and close friend, Mike Krzyzewski, Valvano traveled to New York to receive the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the first annual ESPY Awards. His speech that night is one of the most uplifting speeches ever given.
Among the pearls of wisdom offered by a dying Jim Valvano was this: “To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
The summer months provide an opportunity to step back from the normal pace of life and to reflect on those things that are most important. For some the setting comes on a long, lazy evening sitting on a porch watching fireflies. For others it comes at a lake or river, or a ballgame, or a family barbeque, or an evening concert in the park. Gardens and farmers’ markets provide produce that offer the taste of summer; the fragrance of summer comes from blooming flowers; crickets and birds fill the air with the sounds of summer. Families travel great distances to reunite.
The pace is different, and the difference brings nourishment and refreshment that prepare us for another year that for many is marked by the calendar of schools. So often in today’s fast-paced, agenda-driven world, we move at a near robotic pace, failing to acknowledge and claim those experiences that define our humanity.
What separates us from other creatures that have walked this planet? Valvano is right: it is the ability to laugh, to think, and to experience deep emotion. Laughter, reflection and emotion grow out of our place in human community. We laugh with others as we laugh at ourselves. We consider the meaning of life as we reflect on how we are linked to one another. Our deepest emotions grow out of the experience of being connected to or isolated from those with whom we share life.
In a time when too much of our human discourse is divisive, insulting, and alienating, summer calls us to ponder anew the essence of our humanity in the larger context of human connection. As summer comes to an end and we prepare for the seasons ahead, take time to reflect on how you spend your day. Do you laugh? Do you take time to think? Do you allow yourself to feel deeply?
“If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
Rock Jones is president of Ohio Wesleyan University and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.