Every once in a while, someone passes away who—as people remember his or her life—inspires you to be a better person. Tony Gwynn is one of those people.
Tony Gwynn died Monday from cancer. The likely culprit was smokeless chewing tobacco. Not only was Tony Gwynn an amazing hitter for the San Diego Padres (his lifetime batting average was .338, which is 17th all-time, but misleading since everyone ahead of him except Ted Williams  and Lou Gehrig  was born in the 1800’s), but he was an even better human being. I tweeted yesterday that everyone in my generation grew up as a Tony Gwynn fan, regardless of team affiliation. And it’s true. You couldn’t dislike Tony Gwynn even as he was driving in the winning run against your hometown heroes. But, of course, not many of us actually knew Gwynn. I never spoke to the man.
But plenty of people did know Gwynn. And shortly after his death, their stories began pouring in. Thousands of tributes from current and former players, reporters, beat writers, coaches, fans—men and women whose lives are better because Tony Gwynn spent 54 years on this planet.
Bob Nightengale—a Major League Baseball writer since 1986—wrote, “This is a guy who treated bat boys with as much respect as the club president. If you came in with a TV crew from 60 Minutes or were a high school writer from San Diego, he’d give you the same professionalism. He never looked at your name tag to find out your affiliation. He didn’t care if your newspaper circulation consisted of dozens of kids from the neighborhood or millions in New York, you were equals in his mind.”
I spend a lot of time thinking about words like eternity and legacy. I imagine my own funeral. What will people say about me? How will I be remembered? Am I making a difference? Sure, most of us prefer to “do good” with our time on Earth, but my thoughts always drift to something more important than momentary actions. I obsess over my character. Am I the type of person who changes lives simply by being myself?
There are some people on this planet who change the world through loving others. Treating them with respect. Leaving people better than they found them. It’s so simple that it’s frustratingly complex. It’s not writing a check, or serving at a soup kitchen, or writing a bestseller that leaves the deepest impact—although all of those actions are wonderful—it’s who you are, how you treat others, how you make people feel, how much you sacrifice when no one is watching.
Not all of us are financially able to give away lots of money, or have the skill set to launch an organization that changes the world, but everyone can be a kind human being. Everyone can love others. Everyone can encourage friends, family, and strangers. Everyone can be more like Tony Gwynn.
Starting with me. Starting today. Starting now.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Adam Jones