All that’s left

And then Andrew Strauss’ wife, Ruth, dies of lung cancer at age 46 and you ask yourself: what’s it all for?

By it I mean: cricket, sport, film, tv, literature? What’s it all for? All of this meaningless distraction from what really matters? And what matters is of course the people in our lives. Partners, friends, family, loved ones, children. That’s what matters. We get so wrapped up in other meaningless minutia like Test scores and work and gossip and then all of a sudden we turn around and the mother of our children has lung cancer and then we blink and she’s gone.

I don’t mean to pick on Andrew Strauss, or single him out in anyway, especially not today, because we all do it. We all fail to see that all of life is fleeting, that we will never have more than we have right now at this moment. All that awaits us down the road is loss, loss, and more loss. Yet we still, somehow, fail to appreciate the people in our lives, the wonderful quiet, struggling souls that share our spaces with us. Instead we focus our energy writing about bat and ball sports, or tweeting about what the president said, or stressing about a meaningless in the end work meeting, or binge watching TV, or having one too many pints at the pub on a random winter’s afternoon when you look up and it’s already twilight outside.

Why do we do this? It is because we all think that we — and the people around us — will be around forever? That’s probably most of it. Or at least a lot of it. We go through life feeling invincible until all of a sudden we are forced to come face to face with the fact that we aren’t, that no one is. That death is waiting in the tall grass for each and everyone one us. So say your prayers, time is precious, hug your kids, call you mother, and all of those other cliches that we preach but don’t practice. We all know that everyone we know, one day, will day — to quote The Flaming Lips — but do we really¬†know that? I don’t think we do until it is far, far too late. Ask Andrew Strauss.

So then what’s it all for? All of this. This blog. This sport. The phone you’re reading this on. The coffeeshop you’re at as you do. Why do we do it all? To better ourselves? For what? Isn’t that just looking out for what’s over the next hill instead of enjoying what we have? Is it just to kill time? To wile away the hours of a life that is yes very short but also is very, very long? Is that all it is? Taking a knee? Running out the clock? Are we all just living life like it’s 4:30pm on a Friday and we’re at the office waiting for the boss to leave or 5pm to come so we can clear out? Is that all this is?

Of course. It’s not. Life is more than that. Even if we fail and fail and fail and fail to take advantage of all that that is. Right now Andrew Strauss — again not to single him out, I am just using him as a bit of an Everyman — is probably thinking: all those trips I took with the England team, all those months away, I could have been here, with her, helping with the kids, letting her live a life that she put on hold so I could travel the world and play cricket. But of course he shouldn’t think like that, everyone will tell him, consolingly, he didn’t know she was going to get sick, he didn’t know she was going to die. But he did. We are all going to get sick. We are all going to die. There is no Easter bunny and life is a pointless struggle towards the cold, cold ground.

That isn’t as morbid as it sounds. Not in the slightest.

If all it is is a path toward the grave, then of course we should enjoy the path. Stop, smell the roses, go play cricket in Australia, captain England on every shore, write the novel no one will read, the blog no one will read, get drunk with friends overlooking rivers in distant cities. But then what of the above? What of what matters? What really matters? The people in our lives?

And you’re right. We ignore them too much and then they are gone. Or we are gone. Call your mother, text your sister, send a postcard to your Fox News watching aunt. But also read that Tana French novel. Drink a blood Mary in the late morning with your partner over a plate of olives and cheese. Be with people. Be alone. Take your time. Life is short, but it is also long. Don’t regret, fall in love, make the most of every second but also don’t worry if you don’t.

There is this picture on the windowsill next to my kitchen table where I do all of my writing. It was taken in the summer of 1982 on the northern shore of Lake Michigan, right off US2 in the upper peninsula. It is me with my dad and my little brother. I am six years old, my brother maybe six months, my father 33. My brother is riding in a carrier on my dad’s back. I am holding his hand and wearing a red windbreaker that I loved. We both have our jeans rolled up against the sand and the surf. It is sunny but must also be chilly. The picture is taken from behind. Dad is looking at a seagull taking flight against a blue-gray sky fast with low cloud.

It was a nothing moment to him, to me. Another blip of a life where we were always moving toward the next big thing. But it’s a moment enshrined forever that I relive dozens of times a day. How many moments of our lives do we get like this? Our short but long lives? 20? Maybe 25? And no one knows when they will come. They just come. And so we do this — these moments, these strivings, these struggles, big and small — because we never know what moments will last forever. So we make them all count. Or at least we try to. And that’s why we do all of this. Looking for that moment that will last forever. Sometimes it’s with a loved one, sometimes co-workers, sometimes friends on the internet.

And so Andrew Strauss’ wife, Ruth, is dead of cancer and at 46. And so we ask what is it all for? Or, more poignantly, what was it all for? Because the was is all we know. And that’s the important part. All that we know is in the past. Just as we will be. And so we things that we thing will matter, will last, will outlive is. A blog post. A picture on a windowsill.

It doesn’t matter what those things are. As long as they are. And they can come in every form imaginable: a walk on a beach, a century in Sri Lanka, a blog post, a phone call to your mother.

Just do it, Nike has told us for a generation.

There’s no better advice. It doesn’t matter what you do. Just do.

Just do.

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Getting back to why we’re here

I was at work event in, I don’t know, Orlando, or maybe Las Vegas, or maybe Seattle, in the days just after David Beckham had announced that he was signing for the LA Galaxy in MLS. The people I was with didn’t understand that, no, he would not be playing soccer now for the US national team, he woulds continue to play for England just as he’d always done. They were dumbfounded.

During the 2014 World Cup, one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever encountered, tweeted out inquiring why the Portugal-US group stage match hadn’t gone to penalties after ending in a 2-2 draw.

Americans — most Americans — will never get soccer. It will always be this mysterious little sport that pops up on their radars every couple of years and then disappears and they promptly forget everything they know about it. Trying to explain to them the nuts and bolts of how the competitions function — not offsides rules or any nonsense like that, but simply why certain teams are playing who and why — is almost impossible. Every American soccer fan has had this conversation. There’s the national teams. Okay. Got it. Then there’s the club teams. Okay, hanging in there, I think. And each club team plays in several different competitions. Huh? Yeah, there’s the league, and then the cup, and the other cup, and if they are good they get to play in this entirely different league (actually two leagues depending on how good they, and their league, are), and of course their’s World Club Cup which is like the World Cup only for clubs.

At that point their eyes have glazed over and, to them, you have ceased speaking a language that they understand.

And that’s soccer.

Where does even start with cricket?

Okay so there’s the national team, and then there’s club teams in several different leagues and players can play for their national team but also can play for a several clubs in several different leagues. Like, say, a English player can play for the English side, but he can also play for a English club team, an Indian club team, a Bangladeshi club team and an Australian club team. Oh, then there’s the different formats. The test, of course, the one with the white sweaters, and then there’s the one day international, and the twenty20 and this new thing called the 100 or something know one really knows and in England they play for a trophy in each format but in other leagues they only play one format except for club system like Shield Cricket in Australia and internationally there’s the World Cup, and the other World Cup, and the Asia Cup and the Champions Trophy, oh and all the play-in competitions for those cups that sometimes last for years. What were we talking about again? I think I blacked out.

Americans will never get cricket either.

And the problem is two-fold. First of all, there’s the nomenclature with which we are choosing to explain both it and soccer. Americans who know American sport know it well. All the leagues, even the ones they don’t follow very closely, make sense to them. And so when explaining international sports, we tend to use the lexicon of American sports: playoff, division, etc. But the problem there is that international sports are so much more nuanced that once you reach a certain point, you run of out of known words, and that’s when the person you are speaking to starts to look for a different conversation to join.

The second is, simply, access to knowledge about the game on an ongoing basis. If you are exposed to the game — even for just a few minutes a day — that’s usually enough, over a period of time, to give people a decent understanding of what it’s all about.

When it comest to cricket, this is where I want this blog to step in, and hopefully help with both of the above.

This blog has existed for several years, and it never really had strong, focused purpose. I drifted all over the place. World War 1, England, Pakistan, America, wherever my whims dictated, that’s what I would write about. I think the blog has been at its best when I’ve woven my personal narrative into stories about cricket. But that’s a difficult construct to pull off and not one that’s sustainable long term. So while I will still write about all of the above, I hope to move toward a daily — that’s blue sky, it will probably be weekly or monthly considering — posts that talk to Americans and explains to them what is happening in cricket and why it’s cool and why they should care. It’s something I have been wanting to do for a while. I hope to move it, at some point, into an email newsletter, but we will see what happens there. And the goal is also to make it not just fun reading for cricket newbs, but for life long fans of the game, too.

This will start on Jan. 1. It’s not a new year’s resolution, but it’s close.

Because the thing is, I had a pretty good thing going here, back when I was posting almost every weekday. It felt good. I had an audience and fans. And I want that back. And I want to keep writing, and I want to keep writing about cricket, and I want to help more people understand the game and why I — and a billion others — love it so much. I have always felt that American cricket fans have a bit of a duty to help grow the game in this country, and I hope this new focus helps to do that, if even a little.

The tagline of this blog has always been: An American Cricket Blog. And now I think it will finally be living up to that name.

I can’t wait to get started.

 

On Alastair Cook: When You Leave

The week of August 6th was the worst week of my entire life. Monday spiraled into Tuesday which spiraled into Wednesday. Each minute was worse than the next. I felt like I was slowly being sliced open, and my insides allowed to drip, drip, drip out onto the street. Then I hit bottom. And then it was over. The wound was still there, but it no longer bled. I was on the back porch of my mother’s house in suburban Minneapolis. It was a beautiful summer’s day. A Thursday. August the 9th. I was drinking coffee and I had my book and the day off and nowhere in particular to be. It was then that I received a Medium post from my newly ex-wife entitled: When You’re Left.

I read it through in its entirety. Each word was salt into the still gaping wound in that space just beneath my heart. I read it, deleted the email in which she sent the link, and promised myself I would never read it again. I finished my coffee and sat in that chair there in the sun on my mother’s back patio for a long time, thinking about what I had just read. And what I just done: left.

My ex-wife is an excellent writer. Clear, direct, authentic. She avoids hyperbole and over-dramatization. She just writes. One of those people that makes it look easy. In the Medium post she described what it was like to have been left. That everything in our house reminded her of us, of what we’d had, and around every corner was a reminder of that loss. It was deeply sad.

She wrote about how when uses the shower in what was once our house, our home, she cannot help but think of how we had just gotten the bathroom redone, and how I had never gotten a chance to use it. When she goes out into what was once our giant and beautiful and green backyard, she cannot help but think of all the good times that we’d had out there, or about the first day we looked at the house in 2005 and fell in love with that big expanse of private green. When she pets our dog, she thinks of us; when she makes dinner, she thinks of us; when she goes to the grocery store, she thinks of us; when she puts a record on, she thinks of us. It’s a never-ending cycle of reminders, followed by a sharp twist of pain in that space, that space I described above, that little space in your chest just below your heart. You know the one I am talking about.

She wrote about the first few seconds of her day. When she would wake up, roll over, and wonder where I was, before she remembered that I was gone. She wrote about the little changes she was making to the house: painting the kitchen and the bathroom and the living room. And she would catch herself wondering if I would like it when I, eventually, came home, and how she would have to remind herself that I wasn’t coming home.

Her pain was visceral. I could reach out and touch it. I could smell it. It was a room inside me that I could not leave.

She wrote about not just what we had lost from the past, or the present, but also about what we had lost from the future. All our dreams, all that we had been looking forward to. All her happiness, potential or otherwise, gone.

That letter, and so many other events this past summer, will haunt me forever. Not a day will go by that I don’t remember her pain. “I’d had a happy life,” she wrote. “And now that life was gone.”

Her loss was total.

Then again. So was mine.

And that’s what people fail to understand. Of course, I don’t expect my ex-wife to understand, or to even try to attempt to understand, that’s not something I will or would ever ask of her. But, sometimes, I feel like people forget that to leave, is also to mourn. It is an active choice for happiness but also for pain, sadness — that of others and of your own. There are painful memories around every corner for me, too, just in a different way. Every time I shower in my little apartment in St. Paul, I think about the shower in the bathroom that we had just redone, and how I never got to enjoy it, after 12 years of living with it as it fell apart around us. Every time I see a dog, any dog, I think of the beloved and sweet and loving dog I had left behind. Every time I look out longingly into the paved and gray alley next to my building, I think of that big expanse of green where I used to read for hours on summer days, that expanse of green that I will never get to enjoy again. When I make dinner, I think of what is lost; when I go to the grocery store, I think of what is lost; when I put a record on, I think of what is lost. I, too, mourn for all that was lost. Is lost. Will be lost.

And all of it was my choice. Whether or not that choice was, or is, or will be, the right one, it was still an active choice for life altering change, for hardship, for pain, for happiness that is not real happiness, not yet, but is only potential, future happiness. And you think about going back, because you can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, you had a few innings left to play, and then all of a sudden it’s too late to ever go back. And you are alone, and no one seems to understand that you grieve, too.

And that is what it is like to leave.

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That Michael Vaughan tweet

I have always rather liked Michael Vaughan. Yeah, I know, he’s a blowhard, and all he can ever talk about is how his England squads were the greatest squads in the history of the world. But I don’t mind that. I don’t mind a bit of bluster from athletes. When they are overly humble, it just seems fake. And I also follow Michael Vaughan on Instagram and he seems like an all right guy, enjoying life after a good career, playing with his kids, doing his commentary bit, plus of course slagging off Australians.

And I have also always known — or at least assumed — that most professional athletes are conservatives. Just like everyone in Hollywood is a liberal, most people who put on uniforms and chase balls around for a living are Republicans. It’s a financial thing at its core. Most professional athletes are super wealthy, and the super wealthy — except for the Hollywood elite — tend to vote for the more conservative party. And in America, that’s the Republicans, the party of our president, Donald Trump.

But then the other morning I come out to my phone to find this:

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My first reaction was “fuck you, Twitter, get your algorithms right.” My second thought was: “fuck you, Michael Vaughan. Unfollow, block, report.” But then I calmed down and dialed it back and said: no, I am going to keep following him. It’s his right to express opinions, and I can listen to those opinions and disagree with them and still think he’s an okay dude, still enjoy his bluster, his dorky instagram posts. I was rather proud of myself. Not to toot my own horn, but I bet he lost a lot followers that day, and I am glad that I wasn’t one of them. We can’t poke our heads in the sand every time anyone expresses any sort of opinion that we don’t like. Our echo chambers are why we are in this mess. And despite what a lot of people think, athletes and actors and musicians have just as much right to their opinions as everyone else. And if they want to use the platform they have as a megaphone to voice those opinions, then that is their right, too. We can’t just say: “you have that right as long as I agree with you.” That’s BS and you all know it. We have to allow it from both sides. (Within reason, of course.)

And so I didn’t unfollow, block, report. I just went about my day. And later I watched one of Vaughan’s dumb instastories and didn’t even think about the tweet from earlier in the day.

I will say this though: you are wrong, Mr. Vaughan. The last thing the world needs is more leaders like President Trump. We don’t need more divisive, fragile male egos in power. We need kind, impassioned, educated leaders who lead with a strong moral compass, with the best interests of all in mind, and who see public service as an important and vital mission that will, in the end, hopefully, help raise all boats.

No, Mr. Vaughan, we don’t need more Donald Trumps. That is the last thing we need. Yeah, both our countries’ politics are a bit of a dumpster fire. But reality show politicians who do little but gin up their base with racist dog whistles aren’t going to solve that. We need leaders. Not snake oil salesman.

You are wrong, but I still think you’re all right.