I’ve been doing something since I was sent home from work and confined to my apartment nearly a month ago. I’ve been watching highlight compilations on YouTube. There was something comforting about remembering moments of excellence that happened in a “normal” world that seems like it existed ages ago. That’s why I started sharing old sporting events on Quarantine Rewatch. Watching Muhammad Ali dance or Vince Carter destroy a basketball hoop made me feel better, at least temporarily. But quickly my mind remembers that, for the foreseeable future, there will be no new memories made. I feel the loss of sports each day and it is honestly something I grieve.
I’m embarrassed to even say that though when people are grieving the loss of loved ones every day. Sports are insignificant compared to that suffering.
I think the real reason I’ve been drawn to twenty-minute highlight reels and forty-year-old baseball games is that, without sports, I no longer have space to express my emotions. When you boil it down, the universal binding element of sports is emotion. It’s not rocket science. A goal is scored, and you feel happy or sad, depending on who did the scoring. You hear organ music and think back to your childhood when you first heard it. You see a highlight of a hall of famer and you think about your parents telling you about watching them play.
For me, sports act as a conductor of sorts for the feelings about the important things in my life to travel through. I love Georgia Tech athletics. But the root of that love is from spending time with my mom on campus. I love the Blackhawks. But the root of my love stems from spending time with my dad. It is a shorthand for those of us who struggle with being genuine with the world. For me, logos, fight songs, and stadiums have become the symbols in a form of code used to represent different people and times in my life. The good, the bad, and the sad. It is all been translated into a code that only I can transcribe. A language I use to process my past and my present.
Looking for some catharsis yesterday, I watched yet another “greatest plays of the decade” video. This one was a real winner. It even featured some outstanding moments from my personal fandom, Like Brent Seabrook sending the Red Wings home (and to an entirely new conference) with a Game 7 OT snipe, and 'The Miracle on Techwood,' an insane Georgia Tech blocked field goal/ Scoop-N-Score to walk-off against Florida State. “What a time to be alive!” the announcer shouted as Lance Austin trotted into the endzone. I hadn’t heard anyone say that phrase unironically for months.
I thought that some nostalgia from the teams most personal to me would help me digest my feelings, but the one that broke me was a surprise. About midway through the video, The Loyola Ramblers made an appearance. Their buzzer-beater to beat Miami in the open round brought a smile to my face. Their game-winner against Tennessee widened that smile. Marques Townes’ game-winning three against Nevada in the Sweet Sixteen made it evaporate.
As soon as I saw Loyola’s opponent, it teleported me back to a diner in the Edgewater neighborhood, just a few blocks from Loyola’s campus, where I watched the end of that game. I was sitting in a booth across from my wife, trying and failing to act like I was listening to her talk about work as the game clock ticked away on the television behind her. As I watched the play on my laptop, I remember the shot going in and the half-empty diner cheering, all before the ball left Townes’ hands on the video.
I remember it clear as day. Our server walked over to the table moments after the game ended, tears in her eyes. “I feel so embarrassed,” she said, wiping them away with both hands, “but I have so many good memories there.” She’s worked at the place since we moved to the neighborhood years ago. She’s one of those people whose name you don’t really remember, but you know them. That stranger you still have a connection with, a mutual acknowledgment that you share the same time and place and that alone makes life a little better. Now all I know is that she’s out of a job. The diner is closed. Who knows when, or if, it will open again. She has disappeared from the routine of my life. I hope she’s okay.
Our server was the person my mind tied to Loyola’s moment and while watching that video on my computer, the memory was instantly, inexorably connected to the surreal world we currently share, where the CDC has safety messages broadcast through grocery stores and New York City is digging mass graves. How strange the mind can be?
So much has been lost. There seems to be no flicker at the end of the tunnel. It doesn’t even feel like a tunnel. It’s a void. It’s a place you lose things. A place where you can get lost within the emptiness. Some kind of quantum space that creates infinite possibilities, but only bad ones.
I’m not very good at feeling sad. I’ve got all the positive feelings down pretty well by now. I can knock hopeful out of the park. Hopeless though? That’s a tough one to process in a healthy way. But for the time being, I really don’t have another choice. I feel grief and despair and at times hopelessness, not just for sports but for our world. It's all been permanently changed. I need to come to terms with those emotions.
I hope our server from that night in the diner is okay. I wish I knew her name, it would feel better to be able to say, “I hope *Blank* is safe.” At some point, positive possibilities will start appearing in this void. The possibility of going back for lunch, sitting at that corner booth. I look forward to that possibility existing again. Until then, I’ll have to wrestle with the void. Since new moments won’t be made anytime soon, I’ve got to fight for the ones I have. We all do.