Matthew Brooks was not a pretty newborn.
Oh, come on — we all know it, are all probably thinking about it right now and agreeing with the statement. This came as quite a bit of a surprise. His parents are both nice-looking people, and he obviously shares some DNA with non-trolls (again, obviously), so when he arrived looking like someone had crossed an alien monkey with a prune, well, we didn’t know what to think (other than perhaps a mix-up in the nursery). It’s OK because he turned into an adorable baby, but those first few weeks were touch-and-go looks wise.
His mother, a noted perfectionist (at least before three sons rewired that part of her brain), likely thought that she had somehow failed. It’s not something anyone admits as we all pray for good health, 10 fingers/10 toes, etc., but we’re also secretly bargaining with God in hopes that the child will be handsome, smart and athletic.
She had not failed.
Even now, 18 years later, as Matt stands before us ready to graduate from Powell County High School, she still hasn’t (nor has his dad), at least in terms of raising him to be the young man he has become.
It also appears those secret bargains with God paid off: he’s athletic (football scholarship to the University of the Cumberlands), smart (see aforementioned scholarship, which is also academic-based) and handsome, despite being the only nephew who doesn’t look like me.
While many things combined to make Matt who he is, to me it basically boils down to one thing: he was loved beyond belief. His parents, his grandparents, eventually his brothers (those fights were loving fights, we like to believe), the rest of his family, his church, his friends. Everyone.
Why did we love him? Sure, some of us are bound by blood, but that’s not the only reason. For me, I can say that through Matt (and his brothers), I’ve been able to see other people in new ways, the most telling of which is my own father. Watching him with his grandsons has allowed me to see the love that existed for me as a child but couldn’t fully appreciate because, well, he and I are both Halls, which means we’re stubborn. So for that, Matt, count me as eternally grateful.
So now, if it’s OK with the rest of you, I’m going to speak directly to my nephew, offering up some words of advice as he prepares to graduate:
Matthew, as you probably can expect, this is about the time in which I’ll throw out a Bruce Springsteen quote. You would be correct.
Remember this, and do this: “So walk tall, or baby, don’t walk at all.”
Basically, take pride in everything you do. Never stop trying to make the world a better place. Love with everything you have.
Be prepared to fail. That’s really an important part of this journey. You will face obstacles, and some you can’t overcome. You just have to keep plugging away, keep trying and keep walking.
I can’t think of a better way to end this for you than to share with you a quote from Friday Night Lights. For me, it’s the single greatest recorded statement about growing up. Carry this with you in your heart, always, and I have no doubt that you’ll be all right, even during your darkest moments:
“There are some who do still believe in you, a few who’d never give up on you. When you take that field, those are the people I want in your minds. Those are the people I want in your hearts.
“Every man at some point is gonna lose a battle. He’s going to fight, and he’s gonna lose. But what makes him a man is that in the midst of that battle he does not lose himself.
“This game is not over. This battle is not over. So let’s hear it one more time, together: Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!“