Commentary

Perspective can come at any time

Updated: September 27, 2013, 3:28 PM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

The distance between life and death is an intangible dichotomy. It is one to which we generally pay very little mind, but was made readily apparent to me one morning this week by way of my 4-year-old daughter, 9 o'clock church bells and a long black Cadillac.

In our daily stress-filled smorgasbord of do-it-now -- RIGHT NOW -- deadlines from the boss man and second-grade carpool waltzes for junior and BREAKING NEWS! on every imaginable television channel and Twitter feed, immediacy typically takes the place of contextual rationalization in our lives these days.

We don't generally live here-and-now -- in this minute and for this moment.

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Instead, our focus is consumed by what's for dinner and what our buddy just text-messaged our way. Judgment Day seems distant to us. It's not. We feel like death is decades away. It might be minutes away. But, naturally, we're not wired to rationalize that. That's probably a good thing and there's probably a reason for it.

This dynamic has been near the forefront of my thoughts recently, as multiple friends are engaged in fierce, unforgiving cancer battles. Then again, having lost both parents by age 31, it's never very far from my thoughts.

My oldest daughter, Mia, attends preschool at a Methodist church in a small North Carolina town hemmed together by the time-stained steel and wood stitching of the railroad track. The church has a tall white steeple straight out of a postcard, which encases glorious bells that ring on the hour, every hour, every day.

The folks here are kind. They look you in the eye and they smile and they say good morning. And you know they mean it. I feel good about the values they're helping my wife and me instill in my daughter.

After I dropped her off Monday, I placed her younger sister in the furthest-right station in the three-wide setup in the backseat of my four-door Chevy truck. Then I hopped in myself and put her in drive.

But as I eased off, I noticed that a hearse had pulled to a stop in front of the church. The rear door was swung open wide and a pair of gentlemen in suits and ties were preparing to remove the casket inside.

I stopped. It was the right thing to do.

As they extracted what appeared to be a gorgeous cherry-wood casket, the American flag was revealed, draped across the top. At that moment I was overcome with emotion, as that life-to-death dichotomy unfolded around me:

Here were these precious, innocent children skipping alongside their parents and into school, completely oblivious to the world around them beyond the Hello Kitty or Lightning McQueen backpacks and lunchboxes they clutched -- just as a hero's loved ones prepare him or her to head on home. It was a poignant moment.

When it comes to the flag, I am not pliable. Respect it at every cost. Take your hat off. Put it over your heart. Stop talking. Stand at attention. Appreciate what those colors stand for and why you even have the right to address it. Every time.

So when I saw the Stars and Stripes emerge from that car on that casket, I knew why I was led to stop in my tracks and back up traffic in the parking lot. And as those gentlemen in those suits placed the casket on a cart to carry it inside the church, one of them looked me square, nodded his head in acknowledgement and silently mouthed, "Thank you."

This was that dichotomy. It was the sweetest of life's moments juxtaposed by the harsh reality of its most difficult.

Together. All at once.

Right there in front of me.

And I cried.

Now, #TheSix:

Marty,

Do you think the NASCAR schedule will be changed? If so how?

-- @BillFan9

The schedule may look slightly different in 2014. But I expect a dramatic change in 2015 -- including a road course in the Chase.

Marty,

Will Dale Jr. ever live up to expectations or are the expectations expected of him (from both fans & haters) unobtainable?

-- @RealChrisNulty, Crestview, Fla.

[+] EnlargeDale Earnhardt Jr.
Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty ImagesDale Earnhardt Jr. has a lot more to deal with than just driving his car.

The Junior Affect is fascinating, Chris. Here's this guy who has always been his own man and never tried to emulate his father's legend. That's not to say he doesn't emulate his father. He's told me his father is the smartest man he's ever known, that Big E's common sense and street smarts were otherworldly. When Junior speaks of his father, he beams.

Junior never felt worthy of the ol' man's legend. He just happened to have the same name. And because his personal demeanor is meeker and his driving style is less aggressive, he's been ridiculed and chastised for years. His passion and devotion have been questioned. His talent, certainly, has been questioned. People ask me often, "Can that dude really drive, or is he riding his name?" I laugh. He can drive. Period.

When I interviewed Kevin Harvick a couple of months back about the shadow of the 3, he openly told me that it never leaves you, but quickly noted that his level of pressure pales in comparison to that which Junior negotiates daily. Here is our conversation, verbatim:

Marty Smith: At what point do you think you were no longer Dale Earnhardt's replacement?

Kevin Harvick: Oh, it's still there today. You know you still have fans that, and like I said, nobody's trying to be disrespectful, that's just what it is. That's always something that's been on my mind to uh, to um, how do you get out from under that? The only way to get out from under it is to do something different.

MS: So is that why you're going to do something different? How much of that has to do with your decision to leave?

KH: You know, I think if you had asked me that six or seven years ago, it would have been a very big reason as to why you wanted to do something different.

MS: It was that tough on you?

KH: Yeah, it's just, you know when you look -- you know I'm not comparing my situation to Dale Jr.'s situation, but he has a lot of the same things that it's hard to get out from underneath. You can't get away from them until you separate yourself from it. So it's just over the past several years it's been my car. You know I grew up … Dale Earnhardt was the guy I rooted for. That's the guy you wanted to be. But being in his situation it's not easy because it was a lot bigger than you could ever imagine.

MS: Similarly, at what point did that car become your car?

KH: I don't think it's really ever become my car. You know I think, uh, as you look, we have the sponsorship. I think when the Goodwrench days went away it kinda became more my car than it had been in the past. But there's still always that tie to the 3 car.

Chew on that for a bit. Imagine that being you.

Marty,

Can Harv and [Kurt] Busch coexist? #TheSix

-- @BenVance29

Harvick actually addressed that earlier this week. He admitted that those two used to hate each other, but noted they've mended fences in 2013 through the RCR/Furniture Row partnership. They'll be just fine at Stewart-Haas. They've both matured quite a bit over the years and only care about one thing anymore -- winning.

Song of the Week

"Raise 'Em Up": Keith Urban featuring Eric Church

"Raise 'em up
You've got a voice, you've got a choice
Go make some noise
Don't ever let 'em tell you who you are … "

"Raise 'em up
Fist black and blue
Fight for the truth
It's what you do
Hand on your heart
For the Stripes and Stars … "

"Black umbrellas in the pourin' rain
Sunday morning coming down
Amazing Grace
Lift those tear-filled eyes up to the sky
And as the Flag flies say goodbye
Tonight …
We're gonna raise 'em up … "

That's Church's verse. It's not even fair to write that well. The last part is every bit as strong.

"Raise 'em up so damn high they can hear God singin' along …"

Whew. Standing-O kudos from this fan to Jaren Johnston, Tom Douglas and Jeffrey Steele. Epic song, boys.

Marty,

I love you, man, but you're such a (baby). I saw earlier this week where you said it's not fair to call Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin too nice. THEY ARE TOO NICE. Why do you think they haven't won championships? You don't win championships by being nice. Like Smoke said he'd wreck his mother to win the championship. That's how they should all be. Love your work.

-- Zach Stamey, Waltham, Mass.

I stand behind what I said Tuesday in Turn 4, Zach. It's ridiculous to me that kindness and sportsmanship are ever criticized. Plus, I don't buy the argument that aggression makes you championship-caliber. Who was the last driver to wreck someone else to win in the Cup Series, anyway? Kyle Busch/Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Richmond? In 2008? I'm sure there have been others since then, but that's the last one I recall. Should Kahne have dumped Matt Kenseth to win Bristol? It's easy to say yes -- especially given how many times he's been wrecked this season by Joe Gibbs Racing cars. But it's not his style. That's not a detriment to me.

Marty,

My husband and I wonder how in the world you tolerate some of the rude comments people say to you on Twitter!!!!

-- Samantha Summers, Wheeling, W.Va.

It's part of the job, Samantha. I call them Keyboard Cowboys. Admittedly, though, I, too, can't help but ponder at times the over/under percentage on Twitter comments that would get a man jaw-jacked were it stated face-to-face. I figure it's lofty -- especially when the likes of Kelley Earnhardt Miller and Randy Moss both mentioned Twitter-hatred just this week. Sad.

That's my time this go-round. I appreciate yours.

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