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Prayers & Pat Summitt

Stanford Cardinal v Tennessee Lady Volunteers
Pat Summitt & Candace Parker in the final moments of the 2008 National Championship Game.
Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Today Pat Summitt’s foundation released an update on her condition:

“On behalf of Pat Summitt’s family, we acknowledge the past few days have been difficult for Pat as her early onset dementia, ‘Alzheimer’s Type,’ progresses. She is surrounded by those who mean the most to her and during this time, we ask for prayers for Pat and her family and friends, as well as your utmost respect and privacy. Thank you.”

Today we’re just shy of five years from the revelation of her diagnosis and just past four years since she coached her last game. Pat Summitt is 64 years old, those two numbers giving pause as soon as they are struck on our keyboards.

There’s a good chance you don’t need me or anyone else to spell out the horrors of Alzheimer’s any more than you need me or anyone else to spell out Pat’s accolades as a basketball coach. There’s a good chance you have a name and a face and a person. Someone you know far better and love far more personally than Coach Summitt, someone who has heard that word and walked that path.

Alzheimer’s is one of the least sensible realities of our lives. The family asks for prayer, and many of us will join them there. Prayer and Alzheimer’s walk a winding road together in my experience. What should you pray for? What do you pray for? When does it change?

Prayer, itself not always rooted in the sensible, is at an entry level about opening yourself up to the idea that there’s something more than you, than me. Through all the ways Alzheimer’s can take that sense of self and even that sense of something more, there is a fragile unity in prayer for those who offer on that someone’s behalf. Far below the surface of any hashtag and far short of many answers, when offered prayer can still unify even when we are most uncertain. A small light in the dark. A quiet hope for things beyond us.

Mixed in with that hope is opportunity. Opportunity not just to pray, but to be a people in service to that something more.

Pat Summitt’s foundation is as straightforward as its namesake: Find a cure. They use words like eradicate, which I think Pat would appreciate. Under her watch you didn’t wear the words Lady Vols with the intent to do anything other than by God win. With her final recruits now graduated just like all the others, a new generation gets the opportunity to continue her legacy.

Through this fight, that legacy has the opportunity to spread far beyond basketball and the lives of East Tennesseans. We offer our prayers because we love her from a distance, and because those who love her up close walk through days none of us would choose. We are a tribe of Volunteers. We may volunteer our hearts to pray for peace where peace is needed. Strength where strength is needed. Mercy, comfort, and hope in kind.

We also have the opportunity to volunteer our efforts to find a cure. You can donate to the Pat Summitt Foundation here. You probably also don’t have to go far to find a place where you can volunteer your time, to be in relationship with those who may have lost their own sense of the word and those who walk alongside them precisely because they have not.

And in this, we volunteer for the everyday opportunity to love each other well. To value every breath we’re given with the people we cherish. To live thankful. I believe the truth we open ourselves up to in prayer is best expressed in and through the people we love.

We love Pat. We pray for those who love her even more. And we hope for and seek a day when Alzheimer’s is forgotten, and the memories we create can come to life for all of us once more.