Maybe the best of the things

What if it doesn’t come back?

That’s what I can’t help but keep asking myself.

What if it doesn’t come back?

I have found myself watching 45-minute-long YouTube videos on “Sports Greatest Moments” or “The Best Sports Moments of the Last 10 Years”. There’s a lot of such videos out there. And they more or less hit all the same high notes: Mays’ catch in center field. Dwight Clark’s catch in the endzone. The Minneapolis Miracle. Last second jump shots. Secretariat. Christian Laettner. Hank Aaron. Maradona. Jordan, Kobe, Lebron. The Giants win the pennant. The Giants win the pennant. Down goes Frazier. Down goes Frazier. Carlton Fisk willing the ball fair in game six. Jackie Robinson emerging from the dugout in Brooklyn for the first time. Jesse Owens winning in Berlin. Lou Gehrig telling us all that he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Catches at the boundary rope. The immaculate reception. Flutie’s Hail Mary. The pine tar incident. Cal Ripken and 2131. Bonds and 756. Rose and 4192. Beckham into the top corner against Greece. Messi, Ronaldo, Bale. Donovan against Algeria. Tries. Goals. Three pointers. Sixes. Touchdowns. Homeruns. AGUEROOOO!!!

All of it.

I watch enthralled. I can’t look away. I get choked up. Even from the sports I don’t even really like, the moments and players I don’t recognize.

And again I think: what if it doesn’t come back?

All these healthy young people, locked in embraces, piles of bodies, celebrating the improbable becoming probable. Fans packed into stadiums, shoulder to shoulder, strangers hugging strangers. I watch and I can’t help but answer my own question: it’s not going to come back. This is too much. We have gone too far away. We won’t be able to go back. By the time we are able to go outside, too much will have changed. Far, far too much.

To paraphrase Will Leitch: I used to watch sports to forget, now I watch them to remember.

A few months ago I wrote a hopeful post about how even if nothing changes internally, the seasons will change. Summer will always come back. And that is still true, but it might not be enough this time to remind us of progress, of getting better. And we all might still be stuck inside. And when we finally do emerge, the world won’t look the same. It’s almost, at times, too much to handle.

Intellectually, we all understand that this will end. Life will go on. It will be different. Very different. But there will still be restaurants. And concerts. And get togethers with friends. And, yes, sports. It might be this fall. It might be next summer. But they will come back. But today — where in Minnesota we are still 145 days away from reaching peak infection — the idea of any normalcy returning feels like a pipe dream. This is depression, the spiraling idea that we are never going to get better. I know this feeling well, I have a name for it, but I still can’t fight my way out of the whirlpool.

So, I look for hope, today. Somewhere, out there, there is hope. There has to be. Hope that we come out of this not the same, but different, but also better. Hope in the simple idea that right now, today, we are alive, we are breathing, and that every breath is a miracle.

“The ground forever away” is a sentence I wrote a long time ago. A lifetime ago. A man is lost in his memories, there are a chasm and he is falling swiftly through them, the rush of the wind drying his tears, the cliff walls invisible in the black, “the ground forever away.”

That is how I feel today. The memories are of a world that used to feel familiar, the blackness below me now the uncertain certainty of the future. And we just keep falling. But the ground is never forever away. There is always an ending. Always. We will reach the bottom of this cliff and we will land safely, God willing, in a basket of soft and safe. And we will be in the chasm of memory, but we will see a way out, and we will start walking, and we will smell summer on the air, a field in the distance, butterflies dancing in the wind, the sun warm on shoulders.

And somewhere, out there, on that field, they are playing cricket. It’s the game we all remember and love, but it’s a little different. The crowds are sparser. The mood maybe a touch more somber. Or maybe not? Maybe things will be even more bombastic than before? And maybe that’s where we find healing, when we know we have healed, when the final wicket is taken, and we hug the stranger next to us, the improbable now probable, all of this somehow forgotten, if even just for a second.

The Battle of the Somme took place July through November, 1916. 140 days. On July 1st alone nearly 20,000 British troops were killed. All told the UK would suffer 400,000 casualties from just that one battle, now widely considered an allied failure. The guns finally fell silent on 11 Nov., 1918, a silence that some have called the voice of God. 12 English Test cricketers were killed in the War to End All Wars, a name now so laced with irony it almost hurts to type. Another 500 first class cricketers from all over the globe were also killed.

In 1919, the very next year, the County Championship in England resumed, rather unsuccessfully, as the ranks of counties were severely decimated by the war, and many felt the game was rushed back too soon. But, slowly, the game came back. There was an Ashes series in 1920-21 in Australia. In 1926, India, New Zealand and the West Indies were promoted to full Test status. The game roared on.

And it will roar on again.

We will get through this.

Today I am looking for hope. I found it in the reminder that we have suffered before, and will suffer again, but we get up off the mat, and keep fighting, keep finding joy in every breath.


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