I picked up the book “Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away” during our visit to the Main Columbus Metropolitan Library. It was sitting out on one of the “recent releases” tables and the title intrigued me. I found the book just as intriguing as the title.
Ben Utrecht, the author of the book (with Mark Tabb) was born in 1981 and grew up in a United Methodist parsonage in Minnesota. His dad is a United Methodist pastor. Ben is a person of deep personal faith and that faith shines through the book. Ben, like all of us, has to keep learning the same lesson – do we trust God with our lives – and each chapter in the book is a variation on that question.
Ben grew up big (he is 6’6″) and started playing football at a young age. He was a person of great athletic ability from the beginning. He and his dad would play football in the backyard so it was a thing that brought them together. Ben became a tight end at the University of Minnesota. He was often injured and went undrafted after his senior year. But the Indianapolis Colts asked him to come and signed him to a contract. Consequently, Ben played for the Colts when they won the Super Bowl in 2007 under coach Tony Dungy and quarterback Peyton Manning.
Despite his physical promise and athletic talent, however, Ben suffered five concussions that left him on the football field unconscious. This was during the time that the seriousness of concussions was just coming out and each time Ben was soon back playing. By the fifth concussion, it was months before he could play again and the team (the Cincinnati Bengals) let him go. As he was being treated for this last concussion, he realized that memories from his past had disappeared. He could not remember being in his best friend’s wedding or signing his first NFL contract. He could not remember playing football with his dad in the backyard.
Ben writes, “Our essence as human beings lies in our ability to remember. Everything that matters about our identities – our very sense of self – comes from our memories. We may live in the present, but the present doesn’t last. We are the culmination of all we have experienced, all we have thought and read and believed, all we have loved.” (Counting the Days, pg 9).
“Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away” is a powerful testimony. Ben talks about his love of football and the beauty of the game. Even after his fifth concussion, he was debating playing again when the Seattle Seahawks offered him a spot. Ben talks about his love of his family: his parents, his wife, and his four daughters. All of them have been a great support system as he battles the dementia brought on by the concussions. Most importantly, Ben talks about his love of Jesus Christ and the importance of learning to trust God with each day, no matter what it brings.
Today Ben Utrecht is a spokesman for the American Academy of Neurology and works with the NFL in promoting non-contact football through grade school. He is also a Christian singer who writes many of the songs he sings. His most powerful song is one that he wrote to his wife and daughters “You Will Always Be My Girls.” Be sure you have some tissues handy when you watch it. Ben is also working on brain training, participating in experimental treatments and studies to make sure that he is able to keep more of the memories that he is making today.
Ben writes words that can inspire us all. “I could not take anything for granted again. Yes, I might one day forget all of it. But, until I do, I will hold on to the memory as my greatest treasure.” (Counting the Days, pg 225).