‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.’
As Bill Shankly, the former manager of Liverpool F.C. quipped about football so I might about cricket and especially about that involving Somerset CCC. Even so, the morning after Somerset lost in the semifinal of the T20 Vitality Blast, a game I was pleased to be present at to support my team, I am beginning to get over my disappointment that, once again, cricket wasn’t coming home after all. And Despite Shankly’s assertion, we will all have come to realise that, whilst an enjoyable distraction, whether Somerset won or lost, it wasn’t really all that important at all. It is perhaps only those whose lives have nothing of greater value to worry about who will still be struggling with the heartbreak of yet another ‘oh so near’ and only those who are so insecure in who they are themselves that will feel the need to vilify those they see as responsible for the disappointment that they continue to feel.
Even so, we all know what it is to feel disappointment when things that we have looked forward to don’t materialise in the way we had hoped they would. Many of us, if we haven’t holidayed already, will be anticipating times away from work. Though it will be good to have that much needed break, it won’t be just a few of us who will experience some disappointment related to our holidays this year. For some of us it will be because our week or two away won’t turn out to be as enjoyable as we had hoped, others of us won’t quite be able to avoid taking with us some of the sadness that we would have liked to have left at home, and for others of us our disappointment will come simply because, however great our vacation experiences turn out to be, they will inevitably eventually come to an end and we will be forced to return to a normality that, for some of us at least, is far from how we would like it to be.
But if we can experience disappointment because our two weeks in the south of France is ruined by the lack of a decent local boulangerie, how much more must the disappointment be for those who don’t have the luxury of being able to look forward to any time away from the difficulties that they face. For some of them it is not merely disappointing individual incidents that they struggle with but rather an overall, all encompassing, disappointment with how their lives have turned out, be that on account of the social deprivation that they have to encounter daily, the poor physical health with which they suffer or the deep personal sadnesses from which there is never any prospect of any even temporary escape. And then there are too those currently living in Ukraine and other war torn areas of the world, and those who, even today, are facing the prospect of death which, after even the most satisfying of lives, is still unwelcome and a cause for disappointment that the good times are now forever over.
So how are we to help those with whom we interact and whose lives have such a sense of disappointment that it is hard for them to carry on. And how are we to cope with our own disappointments when they inevitably materialise in our own lives. Because unlike a lost game of cricket, not all disappointments can be dismissed by a realisation that the thing that brings us sorrow never mattered at all in the first place.
Whilst it is true that we are all sometimes more disappointed about things than we need be, to sing along in nihilistic agreement to the closing lines of Bohemian Rhapsody that ‘nothing really matters, nothing really matters to me’, makes fools of us all. Because some things really do matter. Our disappointment is a measure of how far things are from how we want them to be. Though unpleasant, it is not an unhelpful feeling, given how it speaks to us, not only of the difficulties that we are currently experiencing but also the better circumstances that we all so long for, testifying perhaps that things can and indeed should be better.
Last year I holidayed in Pembrokeshire and I remember sitting on Whitesands Beach not far from St David’s watching people enjoying themselves playing in the sea. For some reason, despite wanting to, I didn’t feel able to join them irrespective of how awesome I would undoubtedly have looked with my wetsuit on and ‘Atom’ emblazoned across my chest like some modern day comic strip superhero! My feelings were similar to those I almost always experience at discos, if indeed discos are what they are still called. On such occasions you will always find me on the edge of the dance floor, too self conscious to show off my highly original and frankly alarming dance moves and resorting instead to clutching a pint and simply wishing I could enjoy myself by joining in with those who are dancing and clearly having such fun in the process. I wonder if this somewhat melancholic experience is one that others of us sometimes have, one in which we are all too aware that genuine happiness really is to be found out there somewhere but that it somehow always remains elusively just out of reach.
It was C.S. Lewis that wrote ‘Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise…If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.’
As I say then, our disappointment has real meaning, speaking to us of a better tomorrow that really is out there for us to enjoy. And, welcome though it would be, I am not referring here to a Somerset’s victory in next year’s T20 Final! On the contrary, regarding our desire for something better, Lewis continues that ‘Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.’
If Lewis is right then, for me as a doctor, I need to recognise that medicine can not bring about a utopia of perfect health, still less that which not even a fortnight on the Côte d’Azur can not secure, namely a world characterised by a perfect happiness that never ends. That is something that medicine simply cannot deliver, not with a pill, not with a procedure, not even with a course of therapy. On the contrary, even the happiest of lives come to an end and when death does eventually inevitably draw near, medicine has no answer save to ease an individuals passing. This is not to say that palliative medicine isn’t hugely important, only that we make a mistake if we believe that there is ever such a thing as a truly good death. Because there isn’t, not at least for those who believe that our lives matter and that death, however less bad it can be made, is never truly good given the loss it entails and the end of what might otherwise have been.
Rather then than imagining itself to be the answer to everyone’s problems and in so doing only serving to disappoint those who do come to rely on it too heavily, medicine needs instead to play its part in helping others to press on to that other country of which Lewis speaks.
And so, whilst not being it’s main role, I believe medicine needs to make room for other philosophies and, acknowledging it’s limitations, be honest enough to at least suggest to patients that the answers to their greatest needs may be better found somewhere other than in the treatments we sometimes all too readily offer, in something bigger and better than all that even medicine has to offer. The same is true for those whose walk takes them elsewhere but who nonetheless hear similarly exaggerated claims of the happiness that is on offer. Because, however great it might be, no earthy pleasure, will fully satisfy and however long last, it will, eventually, end. As for me, I am one of those peculiar people who listen to that ancient wisdom that encourages me to consider God, in whose presence, it says, can be found both fullness of joy and pleasures for evermore. [Psalm 16:11].
Recognise this and perhaps we all will be better able to cope when the bad times inevitably come, regardless of whether the associated disappointment is caused by circumstances, others, or ourselves. Furthermore we may be better able to enjoy more fully the good times without our requiring them to be more than they actually are, without our needing them to be perfect. Instead we can enjoy them, recognising them to be the echoes of those endless yet better times which so many of us continue to look forward to.
And when that hope is finally fully realised, as I believe it one day will be, when every tear is wiped away and death is no more [Revelation 21:4], we will discover that it will more than amply compensate, not only for those missed opportunities to go wild on the dance floor, the absence of fresh croissants on our holiday breakfast tables and the consequences following a couple of unfortunate run outs, but also for all the genuinely heartbreaking disappointments in our lives, even that of death itself.
For then it will not just be cricket that’s come home – it will be we ourselves. And having arrived there and found that we are home for good, I for one can’t imagine ever being disappointed again!
Later in the week I spent in Pembrokeshire last year I did finally manage to overcome my former reticence and adopted my altered ego of ‘Atom Man’ to brave the waves of Newgale. It was good to forget myself and to feel, not lost or insignificant, but nonetheless wonderfully small, happily caught up and enveloped in something immensely bigger and vastly more impressive than I will ever be.
But by golly it was cold!
The above is adapted from a piece written a year ago following England losing the football World Cup a year ago. That and related posts can be read by clicking here.
Other Somerset cricket related blogs:
To read ‘How Covid-19 stole the the cricket season’, click here
To read ‘Eve of the RLIDC limericks’ click here
To read ‘It’s coming home…’, click here
A Jack Leach Trilogy:
To read ‘For when we can’t see why’, click here
To read ‘WWJD – What would Jack Do?’, click here
To read ‘On Playing a Blinder’, click here
To read ‘Somerset CCC – Good for the soul’, click here
To read ‘Longing for the pavilion whilst enjoying a good innings’, click here