My sister fought — and beat — colon cancer this past spring. She was diagnosed on the fourth of July, 2017, then went through chemotherapy, then radiation, then surgery, before finally been declared cancer free. It was a long, hard year for her. Exhausting and painful. But for all those months, she kept in her mind the promise of that pure, wonderful, perfect moment of sitting in a doctor’s office on some distant afternoon and being told that the fight was over, that she had won.
But that moment never came. Sure, it happened, but it was not the pure moment of elation that she had hoped for. It was just another moment in a life full of them. Her fight was over, and part of her missed the fight. It was a few months before she was, once again, able to look toward the future, to plan, to feel good. It wasn’t cancer one moment, then no cancer the next. There was no fist pumping, no pure elation. Just life. Progressing.
Pure moments, pure joy, those really only happen in sports. Think of the moments when you received the best news of your life. News that you had dreamed about for months, maybe years. Was it a run through the streets screaming moment? It probably wasn’t. Life isn’t like that. Change, and good news, happens over long stretches of time. And when the news finally comes, it’s almost a letdown, because it’s never as good as you hoped it would be, there’s always a drawback or two, and then you miss the anticipation, the waiting, the looking forward.
This morning I read one of those Cricinfo 25th anniversary posts about Edgbaston ’05. It’s one of those matches that everyone remembers, even those of us that weren’t even aware that it was happening at the time. You hear the words “Edgbaston” and “oh-five” and you are instantly transported back in time. You see the sun on that Birmingham patch. You see Freddie Flintoff setting the place alight. You see Michael Vaughn’s worried face. You see Brett Lee’s brave final stand in that simmering cauldron, the crowd quiet and murmuring and riddled with anxiety, minutes from watching their side go down 2-0. And you hear those words and those images float through your mind, then you hear the commentary, that famous commentary:
It’s a perfect moment. A pure moment. The kind you only get in sports. From the brink of despair to a glittering pool of joy, all in just a few seconds.
But the best moment of Edgbaston ’05 took place shortly after that. When Flintoff bends down to comfort a despondent Brett Lee. He puts his hand on his back, and takes his hand in his. “You were fucking brilliant, mate,” he tells Lee, a look of almost sorrow on the face of Flintoff, sorrow and empathy in the face of all that joy, all that elation.
It’s a pure moment too. But not like the moment before when the ball settled into Bowden’s outstretched hand, it’s not like the pure moments you get in sports, it’s the kind of pure moment you get in life. And that’s what makes it so special, so memorable, because it reminds us of the innate goodness in humanity, in the world.
We all have such moments, when someone, sometimes a perfect stranger, reached out with kindness, or helpfulness, leaving you godsmacked with just how kind people can be, and how the world really is a good place, in the end, despite all the vitriol and hate and violence. It’s a good place, and those small, pure moments are what keep the fires at bay.
They are rare moments in sports, that’s why the Flintoff handshake stands out for us, normally sports are bravado and testosterone. But Flintoff’s empathy reminds that people are, for the most part, good. It’s a rare moment in sports, but not necessarily in life. At least, they don’t have to be. Because it doesn’t matter if you are receiving the kindness, or giving it. “Perform random acts of kindness” is a cliche, but it’s also true. You can be Brett Lee, or you can be Freddie Flintoff, no matter which the kindness will help the world keep spinning, will help keep the darkness from taking over.
So when you see someone hurting, despondent, help them. Be kind to them. But more. Be kind to everyone. Because that’s the dirty little secret that we all know but so often forget: everyone we see is fighting a war, is maybe on the wrong side of life’s tug-of-war, is feeling happiness maybe slip away forever. They have just buried their mother. Or their child was bullied at school. Or their parter lost their job. Reach out to them too. Even if you don’t know their struggle, even if they don’t look like their struggling. Reach out to them, put your hand on their shoulder, and tell them they are fucking brilliant.
We don’t get pure moments like you get in sports in our regular life. Ours are quieter, harder to see, harder to celebrate, but also way better, and far more important. There might not be a crowd cheering us on, there might not be a commentator enshrining our moments in bronze where they will live forever, but our moments collect in our hearts over the course of our lifetime, they never leave us, their light never diminishes, and they are what keep us afloat and make this a good world, a good life, one with staying for.
Edgbaseton ’05 produced wonderful cricket, moments of joy and madness, but it’s Flintoff’s kindness that made it the perfect Test. It’s not the moment of being told that she was cancer free that my sister remembers, it’s all the small kindnesses that she both received and gave over the year of her fight, those moments that kept her going, kept her smiling, kept her alive.
51 seconds. All that’s great about sports, and all that’s great about humanity.
What a moment.