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A few notes on suffering
2003-12-15 22:02
by Score Bard

The poor decisions of Seattle Mariner GM Bill Bavasi are making Derek Zumsteg suffer. But instead of blaming Bavasi, Zumsteg considers a Buddhist idea: that the source of his suffering is actually his desire to win. Perhaps, he implies, he should heed the Eastern traditions and try to avoid desire.

Western tradition has a slightly different message. In the mythology of the West, desire also leads to suffering--but the suffering is worth it. Take the tragic story of Tristan and Iseult. Tristan drinks a potion that makes him fall in love with Iseult, who has been chosen to marry a king. Tristan is told that pursuing the affair will result in his death.

"If by 'my death' you mean this agony of love, that is my life!" responds Tristan. "If by my death you mean the punishment that we are to suffer if discovered, I accept that. And if by my death, you mean eternal punishment in the fires of hell, I accept that, too."

In Martin Scorsese's film "The Last Temptation of Christ", Jesus faces a similar choice: to live a pleasant but unremarkable life, or to unite with God by suffering the crucifixion. He chooses--He wants--the path of suffering.

We who choose to watch baseball are also choosing to suffer. It would be simpler not to drink the love potion. Our Iseult, the World Series championship, is likely destined for some other king. So why watch? The whole affair is doomed, almost pointless.

Almost. But as Roger Angell said in an interview with Ken Burns,

...the people who tell me they hate baseball, they're out of baseball--they sound bitter about it. But I think they sense what they are missing. I think that they feel that there's something that they're not in on which is a terrible loss. And I'm sorry for them.

Although I think baseball does suffering and failure better than any other sport, it's not unique to baseball. The most remarkable thing I have ever seen in sports was the press conference where Magic Johnson announced he was HIV-positive. Everyone in the room was in tears, thinking that he was announcing his death. But Magic was not gloomy; instead, he seemed like he was positively looking forward to fighting the battle against AIDS.

That press conference was the Lou Gehrig speech of my generation. Magic Johnson was the first athlete I ever saw apply the true lesson of sports: you're going to lose. You're going to fail. You're going to suffer. You're even going to die. But if, despite that knowledge, you can still willingly take on the challenges life puts before you, you can be redeemed.

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