In a world in which every message is polished, every statement parsed, every word calculated, every image carefully crafted — all for maximum effect — how can a little boy be so impactful just by being himself?
Perhaps it comes with innocence. Maybe Landon Solberg wasn't yet old enough to complicate things, so he just lived the way kids live, enjoying the moments for what they were and looking forward to the next one, whatever it might be and whenever it might come.
There must have been times of darkness, perhaps many of them, but Landon never let on publicly and instead faced his future with a grace and courage that defied his age. He died a bigger man than many who'd been dealt his hand, yet he was only 12.
Landon and his parents, Travis and Andrea, received a diagnosis of brain cancer when he was 10, forcing conversations no young child should have to have with their mom and dad. Discussions of one's own mortality in elementary school? That's far too soon to learn that life is not only unfair, but sometimes brutal.
Lost the best teammate I’ve ever had Once a Bison always a bison no matter where you are love you buddy Rest In Heaven pic.twitter.com/jOlAPFBQDm— Ty (@Tyson_Ward24) September 18, 2019
Landon's response to his parents will forever be remembered.
"It's OK. God might just want me when I'm 11 and that's OK."
His faith was unshakable, even in the face of the unthinkable.
Landon Solberg died Tuesday, Sept. 17, after a 19-month battle with anaplastic astrocytoma, a rare malignant brain tumor. His story became well-known locally because North Dakota State men's basketball coach Dave Richman, a neighbor of the Solbergs in West Fargo whose own children were friends with Landon, began wearing T-shirts bearing the words "Landon's Light" to spread the word.
On the back was a line from a Harry Potter book: "Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light."
Landon turned on the light for many. He gave, even as so many were trying to give to him.
Landon's visitation and funeral will be open to the public and his family is hoping Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo will help celebrate his life. Visitation will be Monday from 4-5:45 p.m. at Scheels Arena in south Fargo. The funeral will begin at 6 p.m.
Richman's platform helped spread Landon's story regionally to other college basketball teams, but also nationally when former Bison quarterback Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles and his AO1 Foundation became involved. When Richman's team qualified for the NCAA tournament last spring, with the Bison winning a game and playing top-ranked powerhouse Duke in their next game, Landon's story was exposed to millions of television viewers.
Landon was a huge Bison, Wentz, Eagles and AO1 fan.
"To see his fight and his faith through his fight . . . His faith in Jesus really inspired me and just seeing how he fought over and over through that battle, it's tough for me to see that," Wentz said.
In his office Wednesday, after helping Landon's parents make funeral arrangements, Richman talked about a story in which he'd become entrenched. The Solberg home is across the street from the Richman home, "a 50-yard wedge shot away." This was not a faraway coach doing something to help somebody he barely knew — it was a neighbor and family friend living the situation daily.
And, Richman said, he'd hoped for more by bringing Landon's story to the forefront.
"It got the word out. It helped spread perspective to Landon and who he was. But I was always hoping there would be a doctor seeing me wear that shirt and go, 'Hey, what's that about?' and was there going to be a cure, a surgery, something," Richman said. "That was the other part behind it. Unfortunately, it never happened. But it brought a lot of light to a tough situation, and the way he and his family handled it . . . we were all witnesses to how beautifully they all handled it and how strong they are in their faith."
Richman's computer screensaver is a quote from Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho: "The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion." When asked what he's taken away from knowing Landon, the coach pointed at the screen.
Thanks for everything lil bro .. you taught me so much about character— Vinnie Shahid (@Vin_vin16) September 18, 2019
We owe you
Rest easy https://t.co/TWZFo9z93K
" 'The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.' I think Landon lived his life by being a proper example. He didn't just speak his words, he lived his words," Richman said. "To see our neighborhood, to see a school district, to see a town, to see a team, to see a community rally around this and be so involved is . . . It sucks, but it's so cool."
Bison basketball players like Tyson Ward and Vinnie Shahid tweeted remembrances of Landon, calling him a teammate. The team presented a championship ring to the boy in late August at a celebration at Richman's home
"So many people have thanked us for what we did when it comes to Landon, but it's not even close to what he did for us," Richman said. "In our program we talk about servant leadership. For our guys to be able to serve him in certain ways, it made us better people.
"He has absolutely amazing, wonderful parents who have done a tremendous job of parenting their kid. In some ways, this 12-year-old was way more mature than a lot of us adults in his perspective and his faith and all those things."