USUALLY AT THIS TIME OF year, I come out with a snotty little column in which I presume to give midterm performance grades to the members of the University of Arizona men's basketball team. It's an annual exercise in snide that I've always looked forward to. It's not so much for the opportunity to praise the Sean Elliotts and Steve Kerrs, who work so hard and appreciate what they've been given, but more for the chance to let some of the air out of the Jason Terrys and Joseph Blairs, who glide through their time in Tucson thinking they've somehow earned all the perks that are thrown at them and are at the same time completely undeserving of any minor criticism that might be directed their way.
Needless to say, when I originally wrote this year's midterm grade column a week or so before Christmas, I had a few choice words for the current, underachieving team, but it was all rendered moot and incredibly petty by the death of Bobbi Olson early Monday morning. She and Coach Lute Olson had been married a glorious 47 years before she finally lost her 30-month battle with ovarian cancer. Now Lute has suffered a loss beyond words and Tucson is diminished by the passing of one of its nicer people.
We hope that Coach Olson can find some solace in what he and his wife had--a romance and a partnership, a love affair and a lifelong friendship. My wife, Ana, and I got married right out of college. We've been married virtually all our adult lives and we're still not even halfway to the time Lute and Bobbi shared with each other. Still, all those years together are probably small consolation, if any, to him right now. I have no doubt that he'd give all that he has and all that he's earned for one more day with her. Such was their devotion to one another.
Bobbi Olson was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the spring of 1997. After she endured three surgeries and some brutal rounds of chemotherapy, Lute Olson gleefully announced in mid-1999 that her cancer had disappeared. But not long after, it was back. Whispered in reverent and regretful tones, the rumors had been floating for the past few weeks that her condition had worsened. The worst fears were confirmed when Lute Olson first declined to make the trip to UConn in mid-December and then, late last week, when he announced he was taking an indefinite leave of absence to be with her.
I had heard from informed sources that she had gone home around Christmas to spend her last days surrounded by family. I'm sure she was in a lot of people's prayers during that holy time.
I sat in church this past Monday morning. (That's one of those things that probably drive wishy-washy would-be Catholics away--mass attendance is mandatory on New Year's Day, and they only have masses in the mornings.) Suddenly I found myself staring at my wife, marveling at her perfection. The intensity of her eyes, the silky darkness of her hair, the clarity of her purpose and the purity of her spirit. How undeserving I felt to be in her presence, let alone to be her husband.
It was an overwhelming sensation of guilt and pride and love, all rolled into one. I remembered that in the early days, I had always looked at Ana in that way, and when we were apart, I couldn't wait for the opportunity to look at her that way again. But as time went by, I had gotten complacent. I had failed to tell her every day how important she was to me. I have always loved her intensely; I just hadn't always shown it. I had committed the unforgivable; I had stopped looking at her that way all the time and had slipped to a point where I only did it almost all of the time.
I don't know what prompted me to stare at my wife in church. Maybe it was the New Year marking the passage of time or the foolish urge people get at the start of a new year to try to do things right. For all I know, it was my having stayed up late as my son and his sleep-over buddy played Nintendo into the wee hours that was forcing me to concentrate and stave off those jaw-breaking, full-body yawns that only seem to come in church.
I honestly don't believe I thought of Mrs. Olson in church that day. To claim to have done so would be pious and self-serving. But when I got home and learned that she had died and gone on to her eternal reward, I fell to my knees and said one final prayer for her. From what I've heard about her, she probably didn't need it. And even if she did, she'd probably pass it along to someone who needed it more.
Understandably, her death was the lead story on the nightly news that evening. They showed scenes of her with Lute and it suddenly dawned on me: That look I had had in church--the look of longing and joy, of passion and comfort--Lute had that same look in virtually every shot. He had it after 47 years and he undoubtedly would have had it for another 47, had God only been so generous.
Here is a man who has done more than I'll ever do, who is more accomplished, more driven, and infinitely more busy than I, and he always had the time and the passion to have The Look. How lucky he was and how sad he must be. How I envy him his focus and how I mourn for him his loss.
Rest in God's loving hands, Mrs. Olson. Your pain is no more.
Tom Danehy is Emil Franzi's token liberal sidekick on Inside Track every Friday at 1 p.m. on KTKT, AM 990. E-mail Danehy at firstname.lastname@example.org.