So Novak Djokovic lost to Andy Murray in the ATP Barclays World Tour Finals – cementing Murray’s ascendance as the new No. 1-ranked player and my view that 2016 will go down as the worst year in recent memory for people I admire. Perhaps Nole never recovered from attaining the long-held dream of winning the French Open. Perhaps it was some personal crisis alluded to in the press at the time of Wimbledon. Perhaps it was a nagging injury. Whatever the reason(s), he had a brilliant first half and a terrible second half (terrible for him: Remember he won two Slams and was the runner-up at the US Open and the ATP World Tour Finals).
A good year but not a great one. And when you’re great, good looks mediocre. Last year he was unbeatable. This year, he proved he could be had. There are few greater falls than the tumble from No. 1 to No. 2.
No doubt he will go on. Champions, particularly tennis champions, are enormously resilient. They don’t dwell.
Would that I were the same. I have been thinking a lot of late of all the people I’ve given my fan’s heart to who have disappointed or stumbled in one way or another – Colin Kaepernick the non-voter, Ryan Lochte the liar, Nick Kyrgios the quitter and even Tim Tebow, whose attempts to make it in pro sports – now he’s trying baseball – are beginning to look like stubborn hubris rather than noble idealism.
This is, as Nole always says, sport. You win some and you lose some. And it would mean nothing except that it seems, for me, to reflect a profound sense of loss I’ve felt since the presidential election. I’m not talking just about my candidate losing. I’m talking about the meanness that has continued – the minority students who’ve been bullied at school, the law-abiding Hispanic-Americans who fear deportation, the peaceful Muslim-Americans who worry they’ll be lumped with terrorists, the women and members of the LGBT community who are concerned about diminished rights. The only thing worse than a sore loser is a sore winner. There’s a sense that not only have some of us lost but that our faces are being rubbed in it. We are Americans, too.
How do we cope with loss, particularly a loss that goes to the heart of our identities, that seems like a kind of death?
The first thing is we must own our grief, our anger, our sorrow. Sometimes, you just have to go through a valley, like a player in a slump. Denial, impatience – they won’t work. So acknowledge that we’re in the realm of Saturn – we’ll soon be in the season of Saturn, Capricorn – and go on.
This doesn’t preclude counting our blessings – and putting them in the context of others’ misfortunes. I personally have had a good year and for that I feel both gratitude and a responsibility to share my good fortune.
Thirdly, we must control what we can. There’s little we can do about the incoming administration, world affairs, the stock market, the weather. But we can clean out that closet or loss that five pounds we’ve been meaning to. Small accomplishments offer us a sense of mastery, which is necessary for the next step
Which is that we mustn’t disengage. It’s easy to become disheartened and retreat to our tents like the sulking Achilles. (Look how disastrously that turned out for him in Homer’s “The Iliad.”) But we have to play on, even if that means we’re going to go without a championship win for a while.
Lastly, we have to be the counterbalance to what we dislike in this world. In this lean, mean season, we must be kind, even though kindness is sometimes mistaken for weakness.
As I write in my forthcoming novel, “The Penalty for Holding,” this then is love: Not that we are loved but that we love and go on loving – even in the void.