The first time I read anything by Mike Celizic was a month ago. He wrote an incredible piece about the day he chose to accept death via cancer. It was the best day of his life. Here’s an excerpt:
“I could only manage about four sips of beer, but the first one was the most perfect beer experience of my life. After six weeks without one, the hops exploded on my palate. There was barley, a perfect, cold crispness; it was the best beer I’d ever tasted.
It was the same for the burger. Juicy goodness with bacon and tomato and lettuce, salt and pepper. I only managed about five bites, but after three weeks of pudding cups, I was in heaven.
We went up to the 15th-floor terrace to sit in the sun. I smelled cigarette smoke — a good smell for me — and it was coming from a cancer patient in the farthest corner. I had given up smoking when I was first diagnosed a year ago, but there’s no point to that now, so I bummed a smoke.
For a day that started out with “You’re going to die,” this was turning out all right.”
Needless to say, I was practically bawling by the time I got to the end. I’ve read it many times since then, and each reading still brings tears to my eyes.
A tribute to Celizic came out this morning; yes, he passed away. I was shocked and saddened by the news, though by Celizic’s own account, he had “probably a couple of halfway decent weeks left” after accepting inevitable death.
I just thought that people who had so much vivacity for life would somehow defy the odds and will themselves to live.
After reading Celizic’s heartfelt piece, I wanted to meet him. He was in the New York City area, and I’m sure I could have found him. But, he only had a few weeks left, and there was no way I was going to take up any portion of the precious little time he had left.
Instead, I’m left with Celizic’s sports articles, and they’re nearly as good as the first piece I read by him. The disappointment and tragic pain of Rau’shee Warren’s 2008 Beijing Olympics boxing defeat was almost palpable through Celizic’s words. The beauty and uniqueness of the Stanley Cup was described with such a pristine quality that I wanted to immediately shout after reading it, “Nothing beats the Stanley Cup playoffs!”
His pieces were emotional, evocative, and real. Celizic is such a gifted writer that he has that rare ability to make other writers want to write like him. I found myself saying after reading each piece, “Man, I wish I wrote like that.”
And, man, I wish I had met Celizic. I wish I had been introduced to his writing earlier. I wish I could have a “perfect, cold crispness” beer with him and talk about sports and life. But, he is gone, and hopefully, to a better place.
They say you can know a man through his words. I hope that’s true because the man I know is a wonderful example of a human being who loved life.
The world will miss him. I will miss him.