Sunday, October 30, 2011

What Grieves Us

"Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion a child's loss of a doll and a king's loss of a crown are events of the same size."

Mark Twain

Traditionally, All Saints Day is observed by Christians on November 1 — but November 1 doesn't always fall on a Sunday so many churches observe All Saints Day on the Sunday before.

In some churches today, it will be noted that there have been fewer deaths in their congregations in the year just past than has been normal — and, in other churches, it will be noted that there have been more deaths than usual.

It is typically assumed — and deservedly so — that death refers to a physical death, but the grief that is brought on by a death can be the result of other losses that are near and dear to our hearts.

Consequently, I've been thinking a lot about Twain's comment in the aftermath of this year's World Series.

His statement applies to everything, really, but it seems particularly appropriate to those who follow sports teams. Defeat can truly feel like death, and the grief and pain people experience when their favorite teams lose can be as wrenching as losing a loved one. It may seem odd, even irreverent, to say that, but it is true.

I've written about this year's World Series a few times this week. I'm sure it will be the subject of many articles and books so I probably won't write about it again — at least, not for awhile. It was a truly remarkable series. Most of the people I have heard speak about it or who have written about it already have said it was the most exciting World Series in their memories.

It really was special — particularly in the cities most directly affected by the series, Dallas and St. Louis — but there were some excruciating moments, as there are bound to be when the participants are so evenly matched, that I am sure resonated with sports fans everywhere.

And, ultimately, even with all the praise for the series ringing in their ears, it was a painful experience for the people in Dallas. I've heard grown people say that they sobbed uncontrollably when the Rangers lost that sixth game the other night. Some said they didn't cry like that when their parents died.

It's a best–of–seven series, but, of course, it doesn't always go seven games. The first team to win four is the champion. If that's done in four games — or five or six — then it is over. No point in playing the rest. This one did go seven games, the first to do so in nearly 10 years.

And, in the end, St. Louis prevailed.

This series had plenty of ebbs and flows, close games and historic performances. Understandably, I suppose, Ranger fans feel frustrated. They suffered through decades of losing only to finally reach the World Series for the first time last year — and lose in five games.

They took it well, though. They were even philosophical about it. Those Rangers, the Keystone Kops of baseball, had made it to a World Series. Why, that was a victory in itself!

This year, the Rangers took it seven games — and were actually one strike away from winning it all — not once but twice — in that sixth game.

They were closer than they have ever been — or ever will be, until they finally cross that threshold — to winning it all. But just being there, just being close enough to taste victory, wasn't enough for the fans this time.

Some Ranger fans have taken a kind of elitist no one can understand our pain attitude in the aftermath of their defeat.

It has reminded me of a time when I was a child, and my family would come to Dallas to visit my grandparents — and they would lament the misfortunes of the Dallas Cowboys, of whom it was being said they could not win the "big one."

The same thing seems to have occurred to Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star–Telegram, who observed that, even though the Rangers went down quickly in last year's World Series, they were treated like kings here during the offseason.

Last winter, the Rangers had arrived as a legitimate baseball team, not just a source of idle entertainment between football seasons, and they were, in Galloway's words, "given the warm and fuzzy treatment."

That was understandable, I guess, given that last year's Rangers had done something that no other Rangers team had ever done. But this time, Galloway writes, it "wasn't about just being back in the World Series. This was about winning the thing."

They returned as two–time failures to a city that was hungry beyond words for a baseball championship. It reminded me of Tom Landry and his Dallas Cowboys of the 1960s — good enough to make it to the NFL championship game but never quite good enough to get to the Super Bowl.

In "the long winter" that awaits them, Galloway writes, the Rangers can expect a less friendly, more demanding fan base. Expectations were raised — perhaps to unreasonable heights — when the Rangers returned to the World Series for the second straight year, and now they must deal with fans who are surly after losing for the second straight year.

Whether the fans here acknowledged it or not, there was a lot of pressure on these Rangers to produce. During the sixth game, I was monitoring the conversations on Facebook between my friends in both places, and the Rangers fans were already speculating about the details of their victory parade — before the Cardinals rallied twice and swung the momentum in their favor for good.

Perhaps the more religious among us will attach some greater significance to what happened, but if there is anything to be learned from that game, I suppose, it is that one shouldn't start taking victory laps until the game is won. Officially.

I guess that falls under the heading of "Monday morning quarterbacking," as one disappointed Rangers fan said to me on Friday, but it's a point that has been made time and time again throughout history.

It is no less painful for those who must learn that lesson anew.

And grief, as Twain knew, is not a small thing.

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