At the onset, let me say that this is not one of those, “If you think you have it bad, know that someone else has it worse” posts.
Yesterday, the Ohio State High School Hockey finals went 7 OT’s and had still not produced a winner. The leadership of the state association and both schools unanimously decided to declare the two teams co-champions. I read that the decision was booed by fans at the arena. I guess I can understand that in the moment. You’ve seen two teams play a great game for TEN periods, the Sylvania Northview goalie must have been standing on his head as he made 78 saves! I also read via Twitter, etc. a number of people outraged that it ended in a tie. Some said they would rather lose than tie.
I don’t mean to judge those who booed or those who are outraged, guess I lack that level of passion for sports. (Which might explain why my only Varsity letter in high school came as a trainer, in Sports Medicine…four years, btw…but I digress!) I have never been accused of lacking passion, indeed some might say I am overly emotional, feeling, and passionate. My whole ministerial life has been in the context of education, and I couldn’t be a stronger advocate for athletics in schools. I think they teach(and confirm what is taught in other ways) the bigger life lessons. The value of sacrifice, discipline, team, setting goals, on and on! And one of those lessons has to be, “things don’t always end the way you might expect.” A tie is generally seen as unfulfilling. And in many ways it is. And yet, on a whole other level it is not. The great theologian Karl Rahner, SJ once said, “In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable we come to understand that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished.”
It was my honor to be a part of Lumen Christi high school for 12 years, They have been very successful in sports. I have many memories of being with those athletes in victory and defeat, but one of my strongest came after the 2003 football team won a state title. In the locker room after the game, as the celebrating and picture taking winded down, I noticed there were a few seniors still in full pads and uniform sitting on the floor in front of their lockers. I got it in a second! As soon as they took off the gear, it would be over, forever. A tradition at LC after a game like this is every adult in the locker room gets to speak to the team. When it was my turn I noted these guys. I said I understood why they were still in pads, and I can still see one of them sobbing. He had just won a state title, and played well in the game, the ending couldn’t be more fulfilling…except that it was indeed ending. It was a bittersweet moment to learn that “everything attainable” can still prove to be “insufficient,” and “all symphonies remain unfinished.”
A few hours to my North, another hockey team knows this lesson for a far more painful reason than a tie. Grandville(Michigan) was preparing to face Detroit Catholic Central in the State semi-finals Friday. But upon starting that day learned that their team captain, Ryan Fischer, had tragically died in his sleep from complications of an enlarged heart. Our paths had crossed for a week in the Summer of 2012. I was directing a Catholic HEART Workcamp (Champaign, Illinois) that his parish was a part of, and I remember Ryan, and his mom! I’ve stayed connected with several people from his group, actually. Since his death, I’m not surprised to learn, though the media, of his many achievements and accomplishments. He’s just that kind of kid. His tragic death creates an “unfinished symphony” not only for Ryan, himself, but for so many. My heart breaks for his family and friends.
(As an aside: this TV report tells you about the game and who Ryan was. If you only watch the first 50 seconds, you will see what sports is REALLY about. I’m not surprised that Detroit Catholic Central responded in the way they did, they have experienced their own share of tragedy. So they knew exactly what to do.)
Sure, a tie is unfulfilling, but what if in the next overtime the game was decided, but afterwards one of the players collapsed in the locker room and tragedy struck? Obviously no one would think deciding a single champion would be worth such a tragedy. Ryan’s family and friends would be willing to trade a lot to have him back, but that is not a choice they have. Ryan’s symphony remains unfinished here on earth. I thank God I got to hear some of it that week in 2012.
Maybe, for you, the Rahner quote is depressing. But as I often tell people when I teach the “Five Truths,” it’s only depressing because you don’t believe them! If you believed them, they would set you free. If you and I realize that total fulfillment is not really for this side of heaven, we can be set free. We can let things be as they are, and stop pretending that if I only had “this,” or achieved “that,” THEN I would be fulfilled. We would, perhaps, enjoy more fully what is RIGHT NOW, as opposed to thinking the best is yet to come.
That is a choice we all have; win, lose or draw.