For a man who has led a very successful life himself, Doug Glanville has a keen sense of tragedy. His guest piece in the New York Times last week—about number-one draft pick/injury victim/felony crack dealer Brien Taylor—is a sober meditation on what Glanville calls the “illusion of inevitability.” It is also really good. Taylor was a prodigy pitcher drafted out of high school, who tore through batters in the minor leagues until he injured his shoulder during an altercation between his brother and another man in a trailer park. Glanville was a Penn graduate drafted sixteenth, who has gone on to a successful career in commenting and analysis. He also has one hell of a sense of perspective:
I guess I don’t see a big difference between Brien Taylor and me, or Brien Taylor and any of those other players chosen at the top of the draft. Every player, whenever he stops playing and for whatever reason, feels the same thing, because we’ve all been living a passion whose only true inevitability is that it will end.
On a personal note, yesterday I jumped into the air and hit a volleyball with my left hand. It was not a particularly downward spike, but I regard it as the highlight of my day. The ball was over my shoulder and a little behind me, in an area I have learned to recognize as Re-injury Country. I dislocated my left shoulder pretty badly in 2007, and it has been weak and treacherous ever since. It will come out if I do anything resembling a whizzer, and it tweaks when I open a window or try to reach something in the very back of the fridge. At least it did until a couple months ago, when I started being able to do things like spike a volleyball with my left hand. So two things:
1) Thank you, hot yoga.
2) Whatever the human condition is, it is also fragile.
I was never a natural athlete, but I like fighting and they treated me as a promising student at Renzo Gracie Academy. Then I dumped a middleweight onto myself and became a person who could pretty much not ever grapple again. The very worst that could be said of that turn of events was that I lost access to one aspect of a longtime hobby. In no way did it impact the direction of my life, nor did it rob me of the chance to achieve in an area where I was significantly gifted. Dislocating my shoulder is to Brien Taylor as sleeping on your neck weird is to Christopher Reeve.
Yet the very insignificance of my experience—which I regarded as the Trials of Freaking Hercules at the time, I assure you—is a testimony to the scope of what awful things can happen to a human body. As Glanville reminds us, the awfulest of those things is guaranteed. Every single one of us is going to die. This “true inevitability” is among our only reliable pieces of knowledge about the future. It is also the knowledge that we keep most assiduously from our minds.
That’s a good thing. We can’t walk around thinking about how we’re going to die all the time, lest we ruin what is real with obsession over what is conceptual. Life is now, and what we know about death—other than that it’s coming—is that we won’t be here when it arrives. We do not experience it, in the same way that Luke Skywalker does not experience the credits of Return of the Jedi. Knowing that the end is coming is what makes the story of Luke Skywalker interesting, though. Also he has a sword made of light, but you see what I’m getting at.
Hark to the words of Doug Glanville, dear reader. In a culture that urges you to follow your dreams, remember where your dreams lead. It’s why you have to follow them instead of waiting for them to just sort of happen, and it’s why inevitability is such a dangerous idea. It’s not that we get what we deserve. Many, many things that we deserve are taken from us arbitrarily. But we definitely don’t get what we don’t deserve—the things like our careers in baseball or our left-side external rotation, the things that we thought were laid away for us in the future. Only one thing is definitely in that future storage room, and he is shuffling around and waiting and mumbling to himself.