Carpenter: Goodbye, Rantoul: Some final words I hope you find encouraging

You know me.

You know me because you’ve seen me dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of times.

I’m the person who’s always happy. Constantly flashing a smile. Laughing his way through an entire conversation. Loving life. Nothing’s wrong. Nothing to see here.

Appearances can be deceiving.

“You have to take in the hurt. You have to accept it. This hurts. It’s supposed to hurt.”

Those are Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ words following a brutal, crushing loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

The empty, numbing feeling of that painful loss is what initially crossed my mind as I heard those words. But so did this … and you might have to bite your lip to get through this obnoxiously long sentence:

Seeing the 23-year-old megastar in such a human moment, and wearing those emotions on his sleeves, it made me feel on par with him, despite whatever minimal talents I have being light years away from even being mentioned in a discussion with his — after all, he is a not-made-for-this-world talent who took the NFL by storm this season and blew the minds of veterans who have covered the league for decades.

That’s the last time sports will be mentioned here.  

This is not a sports column.

It’s a farewell column.

After arriving at the office on Harmon Drive in late August 2016, I am leaving the Rantoul Press after nearly two-and-a-half years for a sports writing job in Bristol, Conn. And before you ask, yes, I’m terrified. I don’t know what the future holds. Maybe I flame out and come back after six months or a year. Maybe I love it there and never come back to the Midwest. Either way, I’m leaving.

More than a generic goodbye memorandum, I can more accurately label my final column as a thank-you letter. And I hope there is at least one thing you can take away with you to remember for a long time, and it will probably be the following words that I did not write.

I’ve always believed that whatever you say, someone else almost certainly has said it before and almost certainly said it better than you ever could.

That’s why I present the words of Kansas City Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger — a true all-star in the industry who will never in a million years accept that designation, even in a gun-to-your-head moment. This is him discussing the Chiefs’ loss in a recent column, but the game quickly evaporates from his thoughts into something much more valuable, a creed that extends beyond chalky lines and yard markers:

“ … it hurts because you care, because you put so much into it, and to deny the natural emotions of falling short is to distance yourself from the commitment and work you put into it.

“Denying the hurt is cheating the process. …

“… Denying the pain is b.s. — it’s a lie. The pain is there, whether you deal with it or not. If you deal with it, let it in, let it do its work, it’ll leave soon enough, and you’ll be better for it. If you deny it, it’ll just fester, and continue to mess with you emotionally and mentally until it takes a much larger piece than it originally came for.

“… I truly believe that a large chunk of our grander happiness and success in life is determined by how you handle disappointment and difficulty.”

I wish I could tell you those were words I wrote. It’s my same belief, said better than I ever will be able to. My talent falls way short of coming close to stringing words like those together.  

It’s a life philosophy I did not know I held until I finally went through a painful enough circumstance to earn the right of holding it.

I need to let you know you’re not alone. You’re not the only one going through an unbearable amount of long-lasting pain, and that’s OK.

It’s OK to not be OK.

That’s another philosophy I obviously did not invent. The first time I heard it, and I mean truly heard it, was this past summer when Tony Reali said it at the end of a broadcast on ESPN’s “Around the Horn.” Reali has been an inspiration of mine for a long time, even before he endured a level of pain that would break a lesser person like me. And he somehow handled it with grace head-on on a national stage.

I’m using my final column in Rantoul to highlight the unbelievable people who have helped me this year. Without each of them, I would not be here, or at least not in the same capacity I am today. Each of these people is one of the best you could ever hope to meet. For those who have met them, consider yourself one of the lucky ones. The proverbial “would give you the shirt off their back” type of people.

Thank you to my mom, Kathy, my dad, Mark, my sister, Karissa, my brothers, Jonathan and Daniel, and my friends MacKenzie Anderson, Dan Donnelly, Patrick Woodward, Kevin Diaz, Josh Tolentino, Dallas Beebe, Matt Bowen, Sam Johnson, Andy Kordek, Chris Cheatham, Christian Tena, Anthony LeBron, Stephon Allen, Andrew Trobaugh, JJ Gardner, Christian Chavira, John Davis, Dalton Beebe, Christin Myers, Mary Cullen and my mentors John Plevka and Dave Hinton.

If I forgot to mention anyone, I profusely apologize. But those are the main people I was able to talk to about what I was dealing with who helped me keep going and were encouraging.

It’s a long list that illustrates my main point for writing this. I’m not alone. I was never alone.

I was incredibly lucky. Not everyone has a support system as strong as mine. I certainly don’t deserve it, and I did nothing to earn it. That’s just the fortune I somehow was bestowed. To call it a blessing is an understatement.

And I’m ashamed that I don’t think I’ve ever come close to offering that same support to them.

But it’s because of all of them that I was able to fight through 2018.

If you saw me in January, February, March of 2018, I was always smiling. Joking. Laughing. Happy.

It was a façade. Trying to make sure none of you knew that I wasn’t OK. And there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of people just like me. And, if one of those people is you, I hope you are able to fight through the pain to reach a place of peace.

Hope is the scariest, riskiest, most dangerous word in the English lexicon, yet simultaneously the most beautiful, calming, encouraging and strengthening one.

Because hope is what helped me push through to where I am now. Still hurt, still recovering but back to being myself.

Today, if you see me smiling, know that it’s not fake. That’s the real me. And I will always have dozens of people to thank for that.

I hope you will continue to fight through whatever you’re going through, and I want you to know there is always hope it will get better. I’ve always taken promises very seriously. It’s why I don’t make many of them. I don’t want to lie and make a promise I can’t keep.

That’s why I can’t promise it will get better for you. I can only hope that it will. Sometimes, that’s all we need, even though we have no clue what the future holds. But I can promise this …

I said this in a November tweet, but it serves well here: This has been the toughest year of my life, and sometimes it amazes me I’m still here. I think about how well I’m doing now compared to January/February, and it brings me peace knowing I’ve come this far. Whatever pain you’re going through, keep fighting. I promise it’s worth it.

Even if things don’t get better revolving around your specific current situation, the fight is worth it because it will reveal things you didn’t know about yourself. Fighting through adversity shows you who you really are. Allows your true character to blossom. And allows you to enjoy life even more.

It was worth the fight. That fight is what helps me to be scared but also confident in saying, “Goodbye, Rantoul.”

Contact Zack Carpenter at zcarpenter@rantoulpress.com and on Twitter @ZackCarpenter11.

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