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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