I am Eminently Replaceable,
Rumor has it that Bill Belichick’s job as head coach of the New England Patriots is on the line after several subpar years and two terrible back-to-back losses lately.
If Bill is replaceable, what does that say about you and me—or for that matter, about our country?
Bill is widely considered the greatest professional football coach of all time. In his 24 seasons with the Pats, he has taken them to nine Super Bowls, winning six, the most ever. He won two previous titles as the defensive coach of the New York Giants. His head coaching record is 330-169: his teams have won two out of every three games they’ve played.
Check out the online videos of Bill right after winning it all. He almost looks happy.
My record pales before Bill’s. At 71, he is three years younger than me. When I retired from beer league hockey at his age, after more than four decades and one measly championship, there wasn’t a wet eye on our bench. My jersey wasn’t retired, and the boys proceeded to go on a winning streak.
Before that I was laid off from three jobs. I also worked as the editor for several newspapers that passed away not long after my respective tenures with them. Call me the “Kiss of Death.”
Through it all, I have continued to freelance articles like this one to publications great and small, from sea to shining sea. Only now, the few journals that still publish my screeds don’t pay me: that tells you how essential my profound philosophical insights are.
But working for oneself has inherent perks, like napping whenever I damn well feel like it. Also, I have never and will never lay myself off no matter how many rejection slips I amass. I scribble on against all odds.
We are all replaceable, of course, in this life. And however much we prefer not to dwell on the topic, we will all, at some point, confront the ultimate replacement from this vale of tears. Our progeny, if we have any, will go marching on without us. Unlike Coach Belichick, you and I probably have no shot at getting our pictures in the dictionary. Indeed, in several generations even our direct descendants likely will have forgotten about us: about who we were and what we did and why.
With this sad prospect in mind, I recently wrote a history of my family for my contemporary kith and kin. It was self-published, of course, and the print run was under one hundred. But I, along with my relatives, got better acquainted with the people without whom we wouldn’t be here: parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and even those further back in the dimness of familial time.
My forebears left a lively legacy by and large: one graced the cover of the infamous supermarket tabloid, The National Inquirer. Another learned to shoot straight from Annie Oakley. Among more significant accomplishments, my father whopped Yogi Berra at golf. My mother, a poet and educator, insisted with a wry smile that she married the first Democrat she ever met.
It all started with immigration, as it did for the overwhelming majority of Americans. In the mid-1800s, my intrepid ancestors decided what America needed was them. In one case, a family coming from Ireland in 1847, at the height of the potato famine, was split in the most heart-rending fashion. American doctors sent across the Atlantic to screen prospective immigrants diagnosed two of my ancestors with tuberculosis. My great great grandmother and two of her children got a clean bill of health and boarded the ship—her infected husband and a sickly third child stayed behind. Those were desperate times.
Bill Belichick appears perfectly healthy, but if he is replaced his dismissal would be the ultimate example of “What have you done for us lately.”
In that vein, what have you and I done lately? We may be individually replaceable, but together my relatives and yours have helped to build a remarkable nation, one that has served as a beacon of freedom and democracy for the rest of the world for nearly 250 years.
That proud legacy is in question today. We are anything but together. We have taken to name-calling and demonizing one another like recalcitrant third graders at recess. America’s name-caller-in-chief has quite a following.
The world is watching this sorry fractured spectacle. Our allies are worried or even waffling in their support for us, and there is no shortage of countries who care nothing for democracy and freedom that aspire to replace our country as the world’s leader.
After all, If democracy is broken in America lately, where can it work?