My Actions Are My Only True Possessions Posted on March 20th, 2020 by

The NCAA March Madness tournament along with many other sporting events are cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Who are you without March Madness?
Who are you without the pro tennis circuit?
Who are you without the NBA to distract you?
The NHL?
Restaurants and bars?
Your synagogue, church, mosque, temple?
Who are you without your job as custodian?
Or teacher?
Or fund raiser?
Or musician?
Or server?
Or tennis camp director?
Who are you without your college?  Your high school?  Your middle or elementary schools?

Who are you when everything falls apart and is stripped away?  (Ok, Neal, now you’re just depressing me).

Because, at least for right now, everything is stripped away. (I just said you were depressing me).

Raw. (Are you not listening, Neal)?

Uncertain. (Very comforting).

Frightening, even.  (Now you’re just scaring me).

We, as humans, don’t like change, and massive change has come upon us in the form of the novel coronavirus.  Change we maybe should have seen coming, but didn’t.  Or maybe we did and denied it could happen here.  Doesn’t matter, it’s here.

I have good news for you.

You are not your job, or your hobby, your degrees, or your money, your peer recognition, or your awards, your dreams, or your plans.

Thich Nhat Hanh, global spiritual leader.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote something I have never forgotten.  It is one of the underlying principles of Buddhism, but I would argue it is the underlying principle of every major religion at it’s best.

“All that I hold dear is of the nature to change.  I cannot keep anything. My actions are my only true possessions.”

If that is so, then, even when everything falls apart, we are still left with our essence.  Our actions.

I think of Steve Wilkinson, when he was dying, in his hospital bed in in-home hospice care.  Hundreds of people were sending good wishes.  Dozens were lining up hoping for a last visit to say goodbye.  He could barely speak above a whisper.  And what did he do? He would invite two people at the same time, (Barb was the gatekeeper and you don’t mess with the gatekeeper!) who did not know each other, but who he thought should know each other.  This was his last chance to facilitate it.  One would sit on one side of his bed, the other would sit on the other side.

For me, it was Ryan, someone I had never visited with but who Steve thought I should get to know.  For two hours, we talked.  Or I should say, Ryan and I talked.  We talked about family and philosophy, tennis and business, kids and friends.  Steve was too weak to do much more than close his eyes and occasionally smile.

We left the room as friends after those two hours and Ryan left Steve and Barb’s home. I went back into the living room to apologize for having taken so much time while he was weak.  He smiled his Steve smile and rasped, “That is exactly what I was hoping for.”

Steve Wilkinson putting smiley faces on campers rackets the last year of his life.

In the midst of this crisis, perhaps you can ask yourself daily, what actions can I take today to help someone else through this uncertain time?

A phone call.  A written thank you note (shades of the Thank You Bowl).  Getting groceries to an at-risk individual.  Checking in on those who live alone.  Posting a funny meme.  Sitting, just sitting, with someone who is scared. Social distancing for the greater good.




Steve proved Thich Nhat Hanh right, to the very end.  Our actions are our only true possessions.  No matter how dark it gets, we always have that.  That is all we get.  And that is all we need.


How Can I Contribute?



  1. Bruce H. Jackson says:

    I was one of those privileged who was able to be by Steve’s side as he was making his transition from “here” to “there”. Besides the act of bringing others together in these final moments (just one more act of service), Steve motioned to me to come near and he whispered in my ear: “How are you doing?” and “I love you”.

    I’ve never been struck so strongly by one man’s capacity for selfless acts of service.

    Just think about it, your final 24 hours and it’s still not about Steve, but about others.

    Can you imagine a final round at a Grand Slam event where it’s the 5th set, 110 degree’s, and your exhausted. It’s just you and the final tie breaker. it’s 6-7 and you are returning serve…

    That was nothing compared to those final points that Steve made in his final moments of life. I will never forget his example. It’s what I aspire towards and am reminded every-day just how much work I need to even come close to his amazing example.

    Thank you for giving me a few moments to re-visit these bitter sweet moments.

    Love to all of our GAC/TLC community.

  2. Barbara W. says:


  3. John Whitmer says:

    Another fine post. I remember well when Steve and Barb visited us in Bellingham just a few months before he died. Although uncomfortable and in pain he masked it well, aware as he always was that all we ever get – all we ever own – are our actions. He was an extraordinary tennis player – and extraordinary in so much more. But I don’t need to tell you folks that.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Hi John, Good to hear from you. Yes, when Steve first was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he said he wanted to live the rest of his life with the same dignity that Karen Gibbs and Arthur Ashe did. And he did. Now I think of him and how I want to live the rest of my life, whatever the circumstances. Stay safe in Washington…

  4. Steven Wollman says:

    An old friend of a friend, as related to me, always said, this will all be ancient history, one day, Godspeed


    • Neal Hagberg says:

      As my chain smoking h.s. sophomore basketball coach used to say anytime anything was challenging, “This too shall pass.” And it always does. And so will we, lol….

  5. Donald Smith says:

    Hey Neal,
    Greetings. From The Villages Florida–tennis courts still open. [Pickleball too]. Singles tennis rally play with Nancy and neighborhood (3 courts) pickleball with racquet touches at a distance.

    I shared your reflection “My Actions are my only Possessions” with a neighborhood couple [about 150 homes in a neighborhood] that are ‘grocery and drug store shopping’ twice a week for anyone who is at high(er) risk or is immobilized by concern–or just wants someone to ‘care’ for them. We’ve offered our larger vehicle and helping hands if their plan becomes overwhelming; but I know they will feel affirmed and appreciated by your words–much more than the ‘thanks’ I have offered.

    Warm regards my friend, Don.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Hi Don, Great to hear it helped and that you are all helping each other down there! I have given up tennis for the month and talking walks and bike rides instead. I new world for awhile…. Take care and hi to Nancy! Neal

  6. Mark Rekow says:

    Beautiful, powerful Neal. Steve lives in you.

    Thank you.

  7. Greg says:

    Thank you for sharing this with all of us! This is a great reminder that actions truly speak louder than words and that time is a gift that we must live in the present. We need to be there for each other, be thankful for each day, and look forward to tomorrow as it will get better. Tough times never last, but tough people do:) Be well my friend and thank you for always sharing!