Grief / American FootballThe Midget and I watched a film on the subject of grief yesterday evening. It was about American football which is a sport where they use their hands.

I shan’t pretend to understand the sport, or my sister’s interest in it. But like Quidditch and the MotoGP it’s infiltrated my life. My limited interpretation tells me it’s not a game of half measures. The culture of American football appears to be all-or-nothing. You’re in or you’re out. The key succeeding appears to be making sure everyone knows what their role is and making them perfect that role.

I’d make a terrible American football player. It’s not just that I don’t want to dress up in pads and a helmet that smell of sweat and blood. And it isn’t that my two X chromosomes make me comparatively physically weak. I’m hopeless at the cheering and the jumping up and down, I’d be uncomfortable with the level of prescription, and I’d be a bore on the bus as I get travel sick and hardly know any lyrics suitable for a sing-along.

There is part of me which dearly believes that if I would just pay more attention to the music and follow the rhythm to which others seem to wave their arms, legs and life, I’d fit in better and things would be easier. Maybe I wouldn’t find myself in a different country to the people I love struggling for a sense of belonging with my dreams of the future turned up-side down. I know though, this is a lie. Every time I try to control the situation and make people happy I have the opposite effect. I’m not the sort of person who can sit on the sidelines. I’m going to fight to play the game by my rules. I always do.

Control, and believing you have it, are apparently vital to well-being according to my current psychology reading: Me, Myself and Us by Brian Little. I figure the sort of control you have matters. For me, it matters that I have control over how I spend my time. I dislike a sense of urgency and the pressure that goes with it. I dislike doing things just because someone else, some-when, thought it was a good idea. For some it’s control of knowing things are moving in the right direction. The bank balance is creeping up and the job title shifts a little every now and again to accommodate the inevitable and necessary change in time. Grief happens when something suddenly snatches way our sense of control.

In the first few minutes of the film, almost the entire American Football team was killed in an aeroplane crash. The story was how do you rebuild a team and community. The grief is overwhelming and yet the remnants of the team that remain keep pushing forward. Not smoothly, not elegantly, but with fits of anger and bursts of uncontrollable rage. Grief hurts. It is individual and incomprehensible. Success had to be redefined because you can’t win matches when you’ve lost your team. You can’t be strong without a solid foundation and the foundation – the talent, the coaches, the faith – had gone.

The Midget is on a winning streak. I can see it in her grin, in the twinkle in her eye and the tone of her enthusiasm for life. It delights me to see her so happy. I’m less stable. I’m haunted by grief so my successes need to be smaller. They include recognising my pain and voicing it. Accepting I’m never going to know the lyrics of the songs being played on the bus and that’s okay. Knowing I’m a thousand miles away and most often alone but that’s where I want to be. Trusting the love in my heart isn’t a bad thing sent to cause me trouble but is my greatest strength.

Bad days are those where I can’t see how my actions can resolve my problems. When someone dies, gets diagnosed with a terrible illness, hurt or betrays you, you inevitably feel helpless. As much as you say ‘this isn’t my fault’ or ‘I couldn’t have done anything’, you can’t actually change the situation. The only thing you can do is choose to respond to the situation with faith.

The college football team lost a lot of matches in the years following the plane crash. When you suffer a significant knock back you can’t just jump back on your feet. The rebuild is a long slog. The team though was rebuilt, and as the credits of the film rolled round, the later eventual successes (the putting the ball beyond the right line and the winning of shiny things) were recognised as the result of the long stint of grunt work.

[The film was ‘We are Marshall‘ and is based on a true story. Yes, there was a delay between writing and publishing.]