Claiming Today

Posted on January 21st, 2021 by

A picture of Steve teaching the Three Crowns Philosophy.

Steve Wilkinson, meet Sasha.  Sasha, meet Steve.  The two of you would have gotten along beautifully.

Six years ago today, Steve died.  He lived as full a life as anyone I’ve known, but it was still too short.  He didn’t decide to go, terminal cancer decided for him.  The thing he continued to learn (and teach) in his time with cancer was today is all you’ve got.

But it’s not just Steve who faced the uncertainty of tomorrow.  Can you predict how your day is going to play out tomorrow?  Write it down.  Everything.  And see how much of what you predict comes true.  Maybe 50%.  Maybe 10%.  Maybe 0%.  Maybe 90%.  But I guarantee you it will not be 100%.

Let me put it another way.  How many of you in March 2020 were rolling along, stock market riding high, life is good, economy good, kids in school, sports as normal, March Madness playoffs about to start.  How many of you believed that in one week, our country and the whole world would be brought to its knees?

In the span of a few days, all of our lives were taken away in one shape or another.  Schools closed.  Businesses dark.  Restaurants shuttered.  Sports cancelled.  People dying. Stock market plunging.  Families hunkered down in isolation from the world and, sometimes, from each other.

There was yesterday.  There was today.  And we had thought we knew what tomorrow would bring.

Yesterday and today, “tomorrow” looked certain.  Was it?  No.  Is it?  No.

The whole world lost “tomorrow “at the same time.  And you know why?  Because tomorrow was never there.

Steve’s book. Let Love Serve.

Steve’s simple message of the Three Crowns (Positive Attitude, Full Effort, Good Sportsmanship) and Serenity Prayer, (Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference) boiled down to this: focus on what you can control and let go of the rest.

With the inspiration of his friend Arthur Ashe and the wisdom of another person with terminal cancer, Karen Gibbs, Steve had already been preparing and working at this his whole life.   When terminal cancer numbered his days, he said, “Well, I’d better get writing that book I’ve always intended before I die.”  And through days of great pain and days of less pain, he wrote.  And wrote.  It took over two years.  And we have the good fortune of having that wisdom in his book, Let Love Serve (If you do not have a copy, you can order one here, it contains the entire TLC Philosophy and his life’s work in one place).

He always wrote in the moment that is “today”, because he knew tomorrow may not come, and knew that others could benefit from practicing this, too.

So, let me leave you with Sasha, the 8th grade TLC camper from Iowa, who recently wrote:

“Last year, during one of TLC’s talks, I remember you asking us which of the Three Crowns we struggled with the most. This was an easy question for me. I’ve never been a very positive person, and I have trouble finding the good in things when they don’t go as planned. For example, when I heard TLC was canceled for the 2020 year, I was very disappointed as I was already feeling discouraged by the series of events that had been happening.

Camper Sasha, her story and photo was used with permission.

I was angry for awhile. And I was angry at the people who weren’t taking COVID seriously. I then realized that both camp being cancelled and people’s actions are out of my control. No matter how sad or mad I was, it wasn’t going to change the outcome. So, I realized I had two choices. I could waste my time sulking around, or I could go search for “Serenity” (TLC’s theme song) and listen to the music and let it go. Instead of looking at camp being canceled as a sad thing, I realized that it also meant next year I could go two times in one summer! This was the first time in a while I got myself to be optimistic. Now, if camp gets canceled again (fingers crossed it doesn’t!!), I will say to myself, “Oh that kinda sucks. Well…in 2022 I can go three times!) 🙂

Thank you, TLC, for teaching me the Three Crowns and Serenity Prayer and carrying out Steve’s legacy. I wish I could’ve met him myself, and thank him, too.”

Well, Sasha and Steve.  Though you never met in person, I believe you know each other pretty well, so, in a powerful way, you have “met”.  And all of us will continue to meet, each time we focus on what we can control.

There is no tomorrow.  But there is today.  Knowing this at our core, what is one, positive step you can take “today”?  There is a good chance it will make tomorrow a better “today” if it arrives, no matter which way the world turns.

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16 Comments

  1. Amy Braun Steinhauser says:

    Those of us blessed to have known Steve will carry his legacy forward forever. Those who never met him are blessed by you and your staff continuing his message, as Sasha so clearly shared!!!

  2. Julia says:

    TLC holds a special place in my heart! Thank you for the constant reminders to focus on what we can control!

  3. John Whitmer says:

    Thanks, Neal, for these remembrances – and photo – of Steve. A remarkable man indeed … yes, today is all we’ve got.

    Your mention of his book had me pull out the copy Steve and Barb gave my wife and me in August 2014 with a cherished inscription. And inside the front cover a card advertising a reception at an opening art exhibit in Seattle where Steve and “Let Love Serve” were featured – date: September 6, 2014. The other side of the the card has a painting of Serena Williams done by an artist and good neighbor of ours right across the street here in Bellingham, Joy Olney. It’s a small world.

    Best wishes for 2021.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      And then Joy was the artist who painted the portrait of Steve and of Eric Butorac for Swanson Tennis Center. It’s a small world, indeed. Good to hear from you!

  4. Mike Lesiuk says:

    Steve the bus driver, happy face drawer and high fiver. He was so humble, you’d never guess that he was the man behind the idea, the implementer and the CEO of TLC. He also taught my son the kick serve, which he used successfully throughout his college and tournament play and now as a coach passes it on.

    Most of all Steve showed us that respecting your opponent, partner and the game returns everlasting dividends.

    Steve’s legacy continues to live within us.

  5. Bonnie Speer McGrath says:

    Let Love Serve is one of my favorite books. Thanks for this tribute to Steve and Sasha Neal. And for your rendition of the serenity prayer in song. You are such a blessing. Steve chose you well. Appreciate the reminder…we only have today.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thank you, Bonnie, that book is full of wisdom! I continue to learn from it and from campers like Sasha who live the principles…

  6. Gaylon Rust says:

    Thanks for sharing Neal. Brings back such pleasant memories of Steve and his philosophy’s of life.

  7. Peter Whitis says:

    Lovely story as is Sasha. I frequently reread Steve’s Let Love Serve. I’m hopeful the tennis camp will go this summer.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      We are hopeful, too, Peter. We are planning on capping it at 50% 2021 for safety and expanding as possible, then 100% 2022.

  8. Diane Marsh says:

    We all miss him so much. This was a beautiful story.

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