Lisa did a terrific job on this a few days ago, but I hope you won't mind me adding my voice.
My girlfriend and I went to see the new Batman movie today. It’s funny how the news gets into you—people die every day, everywhere, in tragic circumstances. I’m 27 years old and I know of 6 or so deaths in my high school class alone. Car crashes and cancer are not special or unusual, they’re bad luck, the worst luck. We survive, as long as we survive, mentally, because we ignore, we don’t think about how close every life is to the edge of the pavement, every day.
A car sweeps across the intersection, trying to get through an orange light. You jump back, surprised, but you saw them. You laugh to yourself, relieved laughter, because it was close. There is nothing special or unusual about the day when it isn’t just close, and there is no laughter. Bad luck, terrible luck, at any age, anywhere. With a final, unyielding punctuation mark. It's just luck.
That’s what I kept thinking to myself in the theater, as I watched the movie. This is what it was like before the gunman came in. This is what the people who were in that theater were feeling, this is what they were seeing, and there was nothing unusual about it until the minute the door opened, a man in body armor tossed smoke grenades through that door, and stepped through. This is what it was like, and this is what it was like, and this is what it was like.
Nothing changed. Until it did. That's what stuck with me.
I have never almost gotten on a plane, changed my mind and watched that plane crash. I have never almost gotten into a car, or almost walked into a store where something, or someone, was waiting that I narrowly missed. I have never felt the force of that reprieve—I do know it’s there. It is a strange thing to say that I know I have missed my own death a number of times, but I don’t know precisely how, or when. Because the barrier between all of us and what could happen—it just doesn’t exist. Or it exists only as long as it exists, and nothing will warn you when it stops.
When I heard about what happened, I did remember something recent in my own life. A few months ago we got back from a short trip to D.C, where we’d stayed in an apartment we’d rented from one of those couch-surfer websites. A week later we heard that the next guy who was staying in that apartment had been bludgeoned to death with a brick. It hadn’t happened in the apartment, it had happened on a nearby street, and I remember thinking about how that made it better when it really should have made it worse.
If it had been in the apartment, then we would have been very lucky and the gentleman who stayed after us would have been very unlucky. But he was killed walking the streets, he was killed because he decided to take a walk, or because he was hungry. He was killed because this is the kind of thing that can happen, that does happen, for no reason, all the time, in every city in America.
You can pay a little extra, you can make a choice not to stay in an apartment that’s not in a great part of town. But you can’t refuse to ever take a walk and you certainly can’t keep yourself from getting hungry. And so, we were safe because, this time, we were safe. Nothing more. And these people in Aurora, CO, had only gone to see a movie.
So thin are the threads binding us to Earth.
There will be people out who will write the same column they write whenever any of these things happen—and I don’t mean that as an insult. It will be a column that says that these tragedies remind us what is really important, that it isn’t sports, that it isn’t who won last night, that it isn’t who had the best offseason. That is correct in the sense that it’s true. But there’s another story there, too.
I don’t care who wins a basketball game the way I care what happens to my family and my loved ones, of course I don’t. But watching basketball, watching any sport, watching a movie isn’t about whether you’re enjoying the thing most worthy of being enjoyed. Nobody gets to decide what our joys are. Nobody gets to decide what, of what we enjoy, is valuable, what is worth enjoying.
Sports, for sports fans, forms a part of how we communicate, how we share ourselves with each other. It was a great, great gift that the one year the Mavericks won it all, I got to watch it with my brother though the odds were so far against that being possible. My father and I have watched Rangers games together since kids who were small enough didn’t need to buy a second ticket. It is part of who we have been, and who we are, and how we relate to the game is some part of the people we’re becoming, through all the years. It’s not everything.
If, somehow, someone were able to give me the choice between coming home for Thanksgiving and seeing all those faces happy and well, that have meant so much for me, for so long, not just the ones who are here, but the ones I miss more than I could have imagined, whose faces now are memories to me, and any of my teams having success on the field it wouldn’t be a hard decision. Of course it wouldn’t. I would never watch another game in my life if, somehow, by refraining, I could do well by the ones I love. But that’s not life.
Life is what we share, for as long as we share it. It is preciously short, even when it is long and tragedy, as we all have reason to know by now, is one of life’s few true constants. For today, for yesterday and the days before, we have been the lucky ones and that has included whatever it has included. We have been safe, or as safe as we have been, to this day and that is all that is guaranteed for us.
A month ago, my girlfriend and I were living in California when I got a phone call. While watching the Rangers game at his new apartment in an assisted living facility, he had fallen and broken his hip. 5 innings he’d lain on the floor before he’d finally reached the phone. Later, we would learn, he had broken his hip in a bad place, a place that wouldn’t allow for a hip replacement. He wouldn’t be able to put weight on it, of any kind, for at least three months.
My grandfather is 90 years old, and he’s my last living grandparent. He’s still mentally sharp, but he’s mostly blind and his hearing is pretty bad. We lost my grandmother when I was a senior in college, in February of 2007. He lived alone in his house until this year, when we prevailed on him to move into an independent living facility. He hadn’t expected to enjoy giving up so much of his independence, giving up the house he and my grandmother had lived in since before I was born in Dallas, where both myself and my grandfather were born, but he loved it. After so many years alone, he loved being around people, friendly people, people to talk to. People who would remember he was blind, and remembered to introduce themselves to him, again, whenever they saw him.
He moved in, in mid-April. In mid-June, he fell. My grandfather may never walk normally again. Since he cannot get out of bed without help, he cannot live in independent living. My grandfather may never live independently again, and that, of course, means he can't go back to independent living, to his friends. Those two months of fun, after all those years of loneliness, may be, at 90, the last he’ll have.
What is tragedy? Is it a 90 year old man, nearly blind, who can’t see, but kept walking, for years, kept walking and kept falling and never broke anything until this June? No, I don’t think so. It’s tragic, as our twilight years are tragic, but it’s not a tragedy. He’s had a lifetime of joy, before the tough times came, and he had two more months, after all that, that none of us expected, that all of us gloried in. No, tragedy is for lives that didn’t get to have what his had. Tragedy is those people in that theater, so many at the start of their lives, so many with so much left to do, and see, and become.
We are, all of us, close to the shore. That’s what I’ve learned. Very few of us—whether it comes soon or late--will ever know when we are doing something for the very last time, and that’s the most sobering of thoughts. We will not know when our short time on this little planet is up, or about to be up. Some day, soon or late, the door will open. May it be longer, may it be more peaceful, may it be better than it was for them, for those who miss them, for a nation who mourns—it’s all we can hope for, all we can wish. It’s really, close as we are, all that we have.
And all we can say is what I am sure that those people in that theater already knew which, in our best moments, we all already know, too.
Parents grow old. Children grow up. We move apart from those who have always been with us, even as we move towards others we do not yet know. So, love what you love, treasure what you treasure, keep what you can keep.
I have been privileged, for this last year, to share two of my passions, writing and the Mavericks, with the people at Mavs Moneyball. I have been privileged to get to know the other writers here, Lisa, Josh, Tim, Tom, J0shi, Alan, and not a few of the more frequent commentators. My respect for all of you, and all of them, is more than you can know.
I do not know how long we will share these fields, but we have shared them, and it has been a joyous part of my life, and I thank you---and we grieve together--and we are shadows on a wall, made by a candle that none of us can see, and the wind blows, but not yet. And we are here while we are here. And here we are together, sharing what we love.