Joni Mitchell wrote her hit song “Big Yellow Taxi” while on vacation in Hawaii in 1970. She opened her hotel room curtains and saw the sea and the mountains but also a never ending parking lot. Hence the lyric, “they paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.”
The song is, at its core, an environmental protest song, but it also has a personal side. Most famously this side can be found in the final verse, about a taxi taking her lover away from her. But the chorus that runs throughout the song can only be seen as personal, a lyrical moment we can all nod our heads and agree with, whether it’s a forest or a lover or an ocean or a home:
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Till it’s gone
Don’t it always, indeed.
I first heard the song when I was in college on a Joni Mitchell live record which I listened to over and over again. A few years later on the drive back from my bachelor party with my brother and my friend Derek we were listening to the new — at the time — Counting Crows record, Hard Candy. The album is a wistful goodbye to times long gone. It opens with the lyrics:
On certain Sundays in November
When the weather bothers me
I empty drawers of other summers
Where my shadows used to be
And closes with:
Fly away to someone new
But it actually doesn’t close there. As my friend would point out, a cover of “Big Yellow Taxi” was a hidden track on the album. We didn’t listen to it that day, which is probably for the best, for while it was one of their biggest hits, it is incontestably one of the worst songs of the decade. But I digress.
On that car ride home from Mankato to Minneapolis, I felt the weight of change on my shoulders. To the point where it was almost giving me a panic attack. There was a pressure on my chest as the miles ticked by, spiraling me into melancholy. For once, for one of the rare times, not just for me, but for everyone, I knew what I’d had, and I knew it was going away, and that I was going to miss it. I knew what I’d had before it was gone. Life was changing, the world was moving on, and I had no choice but to go along with it. Let the waves carry me into the unknown black.
And then to paraphrase Charles Portis: time just got away from me. And so much else that I didn’t know I had left me, and left me forever. Or I left it. “We can miss anything” is something I say all the time. And it’s true. We don’t know what we’ve got, until it’s gone, and then we can’t get it back.
Cricket is different.
There is, naturally, a slight risk of alarmism here. Test cricket is not going anywhere for now. But time – and television – eventually did for the music hall and one day it will come for Anderson and Broad too. Savour them, yes. But feel, too, the immenseness of what they will take with them: not just two battered bodies or a cluster of golden memories but very possibly a way of life.
In cricket, we know what we are losing. We know every time we watch a Test match, or listen to a first class match on the radio, we know that we are listening to something that is going to leave us, maybe even in our lifetimes. We know what we have, and we know what we are losing, and so we savor it as best we can. All of us do. And I have often thought that that is why cricket blogging is so important: we are bearing witness, we are writing cricket’s obituary, even as it still lives and breathes. We see it slipping away, and so we are writing about it, recording its last breaths, not just so people a hundred years from now will understand, but to give cricket — beautiful old cricket — the long, loving goodbye it so richly deserves.
And it’s another lesson from cricket for us all. At this moment — right now — we all have more than we will ever have again. All that is around us will one day go away. And if we can step back and see the last old masters plying their trade — in cricket or anywhere —and realize how great it is, then maybe while we will still miss it when it’s gone, we will know what we have before it is. Which is a gift I think we would all accept. No matter how you feel about your life, you will miss these days. Savor them. For in that savoring, comes contentment, and from contentment comes happiness. For if we enjoy what we have before it goes, then we will have a chance to say goodbye, and when life changes, we won’t regret having missed what came before those changes.
I will be tuning in, and watching Broad and Anderson, bowl against time and aging, and I will recognize that they — and bowlers like them — are going away, probably forever. And we must all enjoy them for all that they are, before they disappear like steam into the dry winter air. We will miss them when they are gone. We will miss these days when they are gone. We know they are leaving. Cricket is no different than life, and we need to hear its lessons, and to find joy in the now, instead of always looking around the corner for what’s next.
Cricket is more than a game. If we let it, it can teach us so much. It can teach us how to say goodbye. It can teach us that life is fleeting. And it can teach us to savor the moments we have, for we will miss them all when they go.