Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Love, Hope, and Beauty

The post over at Common Grounds a couple of days ago struck a particular chord with me and so I commend it to you. It's simply a reproduction of Rick Reilly's back page column from Sports Illustrated. Reilly is a great writer and has a knack for mixing straight sports-talk, humor, and truly moving human interest stories in a way that few people are able to do. Most sports writers are good at only one of these talents and when they try to mix up their game, it just doesn't work. Reilly is the exception that proves the rule and this column is an excellent example of why.

(What follows assumes that you've read the article.)

I've reflected a lot recently about why stories like this affect me so deeply. At one level, I'm sure it has to do with the fact that I'm a parent now. I know it's a cliche but I definitely think there are some things you can't really understand until you have children of your own. It's the only relationship most of us have where someone is entirely dependent upon us, has done nothing to earn our love, and whom we nevertheless love more purely than anyone else in the world. Such a dynamic opens up emotions and insights that it's hard to get otherwise.

That being said, I think there's something more general about the Hoyts that makes their example so moving. On the one hand, it's a case where something is so clearly not the way it's supposed to be. Children aren't supposed to be born with brain damage. Something as flukey as having the umbilical cord wrapped around your neck isn't supposed to have such dire consequences for one's life. Rick did nothing to deserve this fate and yet he's stuck with it. If there is such a thing as a senseless tragedy, this would seem to be a pretty good candidate.

But the feelings of sadness and anger that might be aroused by Rick's plight are immediately confronted with something that is so profoundly and beautifully right: a father's love for, and devotion to, his son. Sure, in this case, that love leads to particularly impressive accomplishments: Dick has run exactly 24 more Boston Marathons than I ever will. But I'm sure he doesn't think about the accomplishments at all. They are a complete afterthought--a mere means to the end of making his son happy.

I think it's this juxtaposition of dissatisfaction and beauty that give stories like this their universal appeal. They touch our deepest longings in a way that no philosophical or theological argument can and lead us to hope for a time when "death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Rev. 21:4).


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