‘It’s never too late to be what you might have been.’
I love that truism, even if it works better in some contexts than others. This week, for example, has been a pretty stern test for George Eliot’s quote, and also a stark example of the difference between sport and life.
Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran used their entire 10 years in a Bali prison to try to become the men they might have been, had they not been dickhead enough to try and smuggle heroin in their early 20s. They seem to have succeeded, except for the fact that a dick-swinging Indonesian president, elected on a hardline agenda when it comes to his country’s drug problem, decided the two Australians’ lives were better used as collateral that could deliver popularity, instead of recognising their work to become better people.
As has been endlessly reported, Chan used his time in jail to explore Faith, and devoted himself to making other prisoners’ lives better in his finite time left on Earth. Sukumaran painted, expressed himself, laughed a lot, and reportedly evolved into an intelligent, gentle giant, to the point that the act of shooting him in the heart most definitely felt like murder rather than justice.
In the end, Eliot was wrong: they could not out-run that one massive mistake of their youth but, by the time it fatally caught up with them, they at least were able to stand tall, somehow seen by the wider community as more inspirational than dirty drug mules. (And none of this is to suggest that their original crime was okay: I am vehemently anti hard drugs and the people who would bring them into Australia. I just acknowledge the criminals’ rehabilitation.)
Of course, there’s not much of a link between that whole sorry business and hockey, and especially this now-half-century-old Melbourne struggler.
Except that those horrific events underline, strongly, how much easier sport is, even when it goes badly, compared to real life. Context can be useful sometimes, when we think the sporting Gods are against us. Hockey and other sports are not actually life-and-death, no matter how energetically some commentators may try to put that spin on it. I was encouraged to see several AFL footballers actively dismissing all the ANZAC Day bullshit that likes to make out that football is war. A couple of players went out of their way, in interviews, to underline that they understand and appreciate the difference; that they’re only playing sport, not facing the unimaginable horrors that soldiers, Turk or Australian, New Zealander or British, did at Gallipoli.
Yes, a promising young Tiger, Nathan Drummond, made his debut for the club last Friday night against Melbourne only to collapse, in agony, clutching his knee, and duly needed season-ending surgery. That sucks dog balls, as an ex-girlfriend of mine liked to say, but Drummond can come back and try again. He gets to do rehab, and sweat and grit his teeth, and overcome this hurdle.
Even as I watched my ever-frustrating Tigers fail to turn up against a young and committed Demon team that night, falling with depressing meekness in the rain, I could be comfortable in the knowledge that Richmond would get another shot at being the finals-bound team it was resolutely failing to be, this weekend at the MCG versus Geelong. That morning, I had already watched my beloved Red Wings, in the first-round of the NHL play-offs, against Tampa Bay, carry a 2-0 lead deep into the third period, all set to go 3-1 up in the series, only to drop three goals in eight minutes to lose and re-earn their underdog status.
It only took them two days to rediscover the team they might have been, winning big in Tampa Bay, before returning to the Joe and losing again. And so, as I type this, it’s 0-0 at the end of the first period of Game 7 at Tampa Bay, and the Wings may or may not be going through to the second round.
Which will lead to whether Mike Babcock will or won’t remain as head coach next year, as he comes off contract and fields huge offers from a range of teams desperate for him to take over their franchises.
And, if the team has lost today, players will come and go and the team will seek to improve beyond the once-mighty power that hasn’t made it past the first couple of rounds of play-offs for years now. The longest active play-off streak in American sport – 24 years and counting – doesn’t mean much when you get KOed straight away every time.
But, to emphasise, Eliot’s point, they get another shot. Every season. And if Babcock does leave, somebody else will take that chair and the team will evolve in a new direction.
Me? Right now, I feel a long way from the hockey player I might have been, or even am. I’m carrying a nasty head cold and I haven’t written any blogs because I’ve had a month off the ice, getting busy with swapping rings, working hard in two jobs, turning 50, entertaining family from France, doing pretty much anything except regular fitness work. Like everybody, I feel in my head that I am much younger than my chronological age, but I think the one part of hitting my half-century that I’m aware of is that if I stop moving, my body starts to immediately lose its edge. Like a shark that must swim to not drown, I simply can’t take a month off any more without noticing it, and so I’m resting only for as long as it takes to see off this virus and then I simply have to get back on the ice, get back in the gym, ride my awesome new mountain bike and do all the things I usually do to be fit and ready for next summer’s Div 3 action.
The good news is that I have that chance, I have the blessed life that I have, to evolve and explore and see what I can still be in the second half of my life. Hopefully better than I am and I have been.
Chan and Sukumaran, and the six men executed with them, don’t have that chance. But if you’re reading this, you do. Live large, people. Take a moment to breathe, to enjoy the feeling of simply being alive. And then get on with things.