My trek through this disease reminds me of Vinko Bogataj. On March 7, 1970, A Wide World of Sports captured Bogataj’s third jump on the Heini Klopfer hill. Midway down Bogataj realized the ramp had become too fast. Attempting to lower his center of gravity and stop, he lost his balance, flew out of control, tumbled multiple times and crashed through a retaining fence before halting. Coordinating producer Dennis Lewin inserted Bogataj’s crash to coincide exactly with the words ‘… and the agony of defeat.’ (You can see the clip on YouTube’s Wide World of Sports intro, about the 13 second mark.) Life is filled with the cyclical nature of ‘the thrill of victory’ and ‘the agony of defeat.’ As you walk, almost everyone understands this yin and yang.
Everyone continually proceeds through the cyclic process of suffering and recovering from defeat. At face value, 2020 seems loaded with fear, anxiety, and other hatred. And unlike the Stella Artois ‘Daydream’ commercial (which admittedly, I’ve personally viewed over 60+ times) the path remains uncertain. The journey is daunting. You smile, restate a Psalm, Bible verse, famous quote, wear your charm, spew positive thoughts (because that’s what’s expected), but inside, 2020’s tastes like f’ing vomit. I sometimes think everyone else is somehow favored, for they are free from my 30 years of pain. They are free of a death sentence that beckons at a moment’s notice. They are free from everything being ‘the last.’
I understand the felon’s torture. This morning would be the last cup of tea, the last good night’s sleep, the last great shower, the last great meal, the last great smile, the last thought, the last despair, and the last snippet of hope. Eventually, we crash. Life ends. And our last reach unto heaven remains inconclusive. “Do you think he made it into God’s hands?” “Unsure,” mumbles another. The notion that some find grace and beauty in every fall is a matter of perspective.
No one ever knew me as someone who knew how to fall, but like Bogataj, I got up every time. I also realized laughter saved many a day. Why? Because it can save the day. There’s a great deal of evidence that laughing improves both mental and physical health. Getting fired in 2010 was a horrific experience. After nearly six (6) weeks self-flagellation, I started to laugh. Captain Gerald Coffee was a POW for seven years during the Vietnam War. He claims he and the other American soldiers he was imprisoned with found solace in laughter, and it helped them make it through the harrowing experience.
I began laughing at my experience, the ridiculousness of taking one medical test after another with little hope of ever detecting that ‘fatal blood clot’ lying in wait to claim my life. Life’s absurdity, and all that could go wrong, deserve a laugh. A medical clinician recommended I eat a healthier diet. “You’ll be healthier,” she stated. Catching her error, “Oh. Sorry.” We busted out laughing. Comedian Demetri Martin once said, “The worst time to have a heart attack is during a game of charades, especially if your teammates are bad guessers.” Fortunately, I hope I’m not one of those who can be improved only via death. Therefore, I embrace the notion that laughter allows joy to flow into an otherwise joyless situation and forces fear out. And with joy comes gratitude and love and hope.
I simply let go of fear. Sure I think of death. Quite a lot in fact. I don’t fill my life with repetitive rehashing of what-might-have-been. I figure God will justifiably judge my arse in due time. I have to rejoice in what is, a simple cup of coffee, in friendships and love. I reach for hope, laughter of the soul, and unknowingly, even the most mirthless of situations can become sunnier.
I know it’s hard to find laughter and joy during fearful and self-doubting moments. Kobe Bryant once said, “I have self-doubt. I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I’m like, ‘My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don’t have it. I just want to chill.’ We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it.”
Thus, my end life journey continually searches for the man (God) who will profoundly affect my life. He will probably review my life, painfully cry at some moments, and laugh at the most absurd failures. And from those moments within ‘the agony of defeat,’ God will embrace ‘the thrill of victory.’ In that moment, I shall no longer recognize the person from years past, for I will become anew. And looking behind me, I will see thousands of others just like me.