The End of The Road
Updated: Nov 2, 2020
You were a writer so I am going to write for you.
I was in the home stretch of finishing the latest episode of The Vow, the docuseries about the sex cult in upstate New York, while simultaneously doing my taxes. Not sure which is scarier. I needed a break from both so I picked up my phone to see what was happening in the insane world of Town Hall Twitter, and there you were. Your photo first thing in the middle of the screen, smiling that smile only your closest friends know was actually a signature smirk. The only thing I could muster to say on some stranger’s post was “Oh my God.”
I scrolled through to see a few hours had passed since the first story of his death broke, and with every post came more and more disbelief. So many words spoke of the excellence in his work and character, but nothing mentioned the cause of death. My initial reaction now turned to “what happened.” As tears began to stream down my face, I paced around the house thinking of the people that I could text that very question. I pulled up Wilbon and Rakeem. Forget it, I’m just going to start calling people.
I don’t even remember what I said on my teary messages. I’m sure it was something that included "are you okay", followed by a yearning “what happened?” It’s very likely it was the other way around. I needed to hear someone’s voice that knew him and that knew me. Someone that knew that he and I had not spoken in some time.
Regardless, I needed to check on Vaughn’s boys. I eventually connected with everyone, landing on a long call with one of his best friends. I sat on the phone with the inconsolable until the morning hours. I continue to be impressed by the vulnerability of these men, honored to be in the company of such strength.
It can be difficult to listen to the pain of others when you are having your own feelings, but you just do it. Over the years Vaughn did that for so many people. Ask guys like Burt and Neil. Nick. Vaurice. I am hearing about the way he took an interest in their hardships and joy. He celebrated their lives and was like an uncle to their kids. His closest friends have suffered an irreplaceable loss, as have his friends and colleagues at the network, the league and the industry at large. Not to mention his viewership, readers and followers.
Our discomfort in certain situations manifests in ways that actually end up hurting people – even going as far as to reinforce their isolation. Not sure why it is so difficult to sit in pain with others. I am guessing it's because not all of us know how. Can we learn to put our own prejudices aside to hold space for the hurting? Can we be adults and learn how to simply hold space for one another?
We did that last night. We are doing it again now.
This morning I was trying to muster up the energy to teach Yoga as usual on a Friday but I just can't find any. During this unprecedented time of an unnaturally long, unseen disaster, I feel exhausted. Humans are not made to sustain a pandemic. I've reached what some are calling ‘surge capacity’ in the past couple weeks. Between this, the ongoing fight for social justice, election anxiety and learning of a friend’s death on Twitter, I’ve got nothing for you today. When you are taken by surprise with like news like this, you may find yourself waking up with eyes too swollen for Zoom calls.
I held space for the men Vaughn was closest to until the wee hours - and now I need to hold space for me.
Although his death was sudden and has yet to be explained, collectively we can take comfort in knowing that he was called home.
Vaughn had lost his mother, older sister, little brother and more recently his father. He made his friends his family, even before he was without blood. He and I bickered like brother and sister. He wouldn’t take my call a couple months ago. I asked our friend to intervene. "Vaughn said with a smile that he just likes messing with you,” he reported. I could hear him saying that. I could see that damn smirk of his too.
He used to enjoy giving me shade. He also loved setting me up with his friends, which lead to misunderstandings and hard feelings in recent years. I don’t think there were bad intentions in his efforts, as he was always just trying to bring people together. He was busy making other people happy, often putting his own happiness aside. And sometimes the dark times made that easy for him to do.
I’ve been wrestling with some dark times myself. I feel so old all of a sudden, affected by everything from my new recent health issues to being hyper-aware of my looks during this time of confinement. But yesterday when I inadvertently came across the headline ‘ESPN’s Vaughn McClure dies at 48’ it hit me how young that really is.
We were kids when we met. Those cocky years when we think we know what’s best for us as we begin to navigate real life in real time, clinging to our fixed ideas as tightly as we clung to our friends. We lived in the dorms at Northern Illinois University. Stevenson North if I remember correctly. My first memory of the guys was those meal time parades in the mess hall, where it wasn’t uncommon to hear “WHO is THAT. You know her?” I knew boys would be boys. What I didn’t know is these men would be my friends nearly 30 years later.
Vaughn visited the room I shared with Deanna like it was his own. I can picture her glued to the Bulls game, shouting at the tv while sipping her Coca-Cola. Vaughn, who towered over this tiny beauty, would be behind her also holding a coveted can of Coke that he snuck out of the fridge. They too were like siblings, although I always suspected he was sweet on "Shorty." Vaughn was a sensitive guy like that. And even through crushes and missteps, we all remained tight. And he made sure we gained more great friends along the way.
I can’t explain it, but it all felt so innocent and yet important. We looked out for one another. As the crew grew, Deanna continued to call us ‘The Family.’ And you weren’t allowed to cause any drama that would disrupt the family. If you know me at all, especially back then, that was an impossible task.
Sure some of us drank too much and acted a fool. We unknowingly broke each other’s hearts and thrived on stolen attention and the occasional jealousy. But we showed up for each other. We cheered each other on in the stands, as there were some seriously fine athletes among us. We went to the gym together. Walked home together. We shared meals. We consumed way more pizza than anyone should be allowed. And we danced. We didn’t close the bar, we closed the dancefloor.
"You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here..."
And stay there we didn't. As we started to migrate to different parts of the corn-surrounded campus, we never skipped a beat. University Plaza, Greek Row, Stadium View and the ‘Baseball House’, where Deanna was often told by Mershon to use her “downstairs voice.” People moved to California to pursue relationships or music. Some got drafted. Some stayed and graduated. And one of us went on to become a celebrated journalist, covering his hometown Chicago Bears and eventually the Atlanta Falcons for ESPN.
A few of us have stayed in touch, celebrating each other’s lives on Facebook at the very least. That seems to be the case for many people. I don’t feel like I have reached the age yet where we get together and get in touch only to grieve the deaths of our peers -- but here we are.
Either way, it is in true Vaughn fashion to bring people together. He is continuing to do that today from another plane of existence. “It’s a terrible way to connect, but I’m happy he’s bringing us together; he’s the Mayor, even in passing,” I wrote to his best friend. It’s a testament to our friendships that we are holding each other up after all these years.
I’m taking time today to eulogize Vaughn in between texts and calls as I struggle to process it all. I’m going to meditate and walk in lieu of teaching today. And not just in his honor, but in everyone’s. I'm going to be both present with and kind to strangers. Smile at people even more than I usually do. Surprising for an introvert like me, but I often chat up strangers just like Vaughn used to.
The world lost an important man this week. And that is aside from his contribution to journalism and sports. He was a great friend and brother. Sometimes I thought he and I were already there, but now we really did come to the end of the road.
Vaughn, I was ready to be grown-ups together. I've missed you.
I've missed you too, family.
Thank you to anyone that has ever held space for me. Anyone that sat in pain with me. You’re in my heart today as I pay it forward.
I hope to learn more details of Vaughn’s passing as they unfold. Until then, do yourself a favor and go read some of the posts about this man. He left an impression on people I could only dream to.
Vaughn McClure 1972 - 2020