This weekend, NASCAR will be at Daytona International Speedway, home of the Daytona 500. One of the favorites in tonight’s race is Dale Earnhardt Jr., easily NASCAR’s most popular driver and son of the late Dale Earnhardt, one of the sport’s most iconic figures.
Earnhardt died in an accident on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. When this happened, many of his devoted fans turned all their attention to his son, who although having had a solid career thus far has not matched his father’s accomplishment of winning seven championships. He’s often been in contention for one, as is the case this year, but has yet the cross that final hurdle. Nevertheless, his fans remain loyal. But I digress; back to 2001.
Earnhardt’s death left many in the sport reeling. Even a non-NASCAR fan can appreciate the drama that July when the sport made its second Daytona visit of the season. Emotions were raw and running high, both among drivers, crew members, team owners and NASCAR officials as well as the fan base.
As it turns out, Earnhardt Jr. did something quite remarkable. At the same place where his father lost his life five months previously, Earnhardt Jr. won the race. It was a script no Hollywood writer would dare touch. Yet there it was.
One of the memories from that evening was perhaps the most inane post-race interview question ever uttered. The reporter, whose name slips my mind, asked Earnhardt Jr. right after he had pulled into Victory Lane, “Do you think you’re going to cry tonight?” To his credit, Earnhardt Jr. didn’t deck the guy, instead deflecting as best he could.
The point was, as Earnhardt Jr. mentioned more than once in the following months, while meaning no disrespect to his father Earnhardt Jr. was his own man. He wished to be judged on who he was and how he drove, not his last name. Nor did he wish to constantly have his father brought up in conversation or interviews. While he fully understood how the public lionized him, Earnhardt Jr. knew him in a way the public never could. He knew him as he was. He knew him as his father. He wished to privately grieve and work through things in his own manner without constantly having the grief of others shoved in his face. Earnhardt Jr.’s message was simple and clear: you do what you feel you have to do. But leave me out of it. I loved my father. But I’m not riding on the coattails of a dead man.
Fast forward to the present day. Since Andrew Breitbart’s tragic passing earlier this year, we’ve been subjected to an endless stream of tributes, “I am…” and most overwhelmingly those who were in any manner associated with him in life flying his name like battle colors under which apparently their every action, regardless of its individual unique merits, is to be lauded. Why? Because… because… BREITBART!
I bring news.
You’re not him and neither am I.
First, do we truly honor Breitbart’s memory by daily trotting out public mourning? Is it genuine sorrow or an excuse for combining the mutual admiration society with a self-pity party? Are we declaring we miss him and his mighty works, or are we attempting to wear his battle-earned glory as our own accomplishment while feeling sorry for ourselves?
Stop and think. How does this affect those who knew and loved him the most – his wife and children; his other family members? They are the ones who have suffered, and continue to suffer, the most. Not you and I. They are the ones who daily wake up with a hole in their hearts no amount of political journalism or activism can fill. You don’t replace a husband, a father, a son with rhetoric. You can’t. Nor can you replace another’s husband, another’s father, another’s son with constant caterwauling set to the tune of “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me.” You think you’re hurting? Consider them. Then get back to me on your incurable wound.
Second, association with Breitbart in life is neither a perpetual get out of jail card nor carte blanche for any and all action one might take. The only area of life in which we do not rise or fall on our own merit is that part covered by God’s grace; our sins forgiven by Jesus’ sacrifice and shed blood on the cross. Everything else is on you and I. Self-righteous pseudofealty crumbles and falls before truth. Life is on us, not what someone else accomplished during their tenure on this planet.
How many people carrying on in Breitbart’s name genuinely do as he did? There are almost countless testimonies of how he would unfailingly stop and talk with the “little people.” He made time for no-names, providing them with genuine help. How many who were under his wing while he was with us will give someone so much as the time of day if they are of no immediate help to their career and/or not sufficiently deferential? Very few that I’ve encountered, and it’s correct to say I’ve encountered them all online.
Even as Dale Earnhardt Jr. said enough about his father, it’s time for all of us to say enough with the interminable memorial service and claiming Andrew Breitbart’s name validates our every move. It doesn’t. It’s all on us now. And right now we’re not doing a very good job.