Like waking from a dream.
That is the best way to describe it. The feeling that has crept over me in the last few weeks. It?s a good feeling, bringing with it a sense of freedom regained.
The previous six months of my life had been spent locked in a spell; not unlike the fair maiden of the Brothers Grimm child?s fable ?Sleeping Beauty?. And all it took to break this enchantment was a dagger through the heart.
No, not an actual dagger. I?m speaking figuratively. The weapon that dealt me my death blow was frankly something quite harmless, unless swallowed perhaps; the referee?s whistle. Eighty minutes were about to expire in the match between the Wests Tigers and my own red and white heroes, the team carrying my hopes and dreams with them, St George Illawarra. And so came that sound, the bringer of joy, and just as much sorrow. Two short whistles, followed by a longer third, lingering for a moment, signalling the end of my club?s year. Emotion rarely overcomes me, but the grimace that broke over my face in this moment almost revealed a tear or two. Almost.
The pain did not fade quickly. What I came to experience was the five stages of grief put forward by Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her book, ?On Death and Dying?.
My denials were brief and meek and gave way quickly into anger; my wrath focusing on the referee, the bye, the mcintyre system, and finally the classless supporters of other sides who tried to mock my unfortunate team. Anger passed into bargaining, as I rationalised reasons for why my club should be given a second chance and devised new finals systems that would prevent this year?s outrages from ever happening again. I considered taking these ideas to the world via internet forums, newspaper editorials, or through a Forum Sevens article. Depression followed, and so I spent grand final week deeply mired in self-pity and draped in black, the colour of mourning.
Was this reaction normal, or the result of faulty coping mechanisms? It was only a sport after all. But in truth, I had invested a lot of myself into this NRL season. Not financially, oh no I?m far too stingy for that. I?m talking emotionally. Since round one, Rugby League had ruled my mind, if not dominating my thoughts then hovering in the background, waiting for its chance to take the fore again. I worked my friendships around the game, shunning social evenings on weekends in favour of football. My fantasties, once of naked women, featured the likes of Gasnier and Hornby (not in a homoerotic way, mind); my inner monologues became complex deconstructions on aspects of the game. My life had been consumed.
Like a smoker, the more I had the more I wanted and the more anxious I became to get it. We were one game away from the grand final, but I knew this wasn?t far enough for me. Throughout the year as we edged closer and closer to the top my expectations had ballooned to the point that I felt no joy in merely being in the final four. Instead I promised myself that making the grand final would deliver the rush I so desperately craved, and then, only then, would I feel happy about the 2005 season. I never got that chance.
But was it a blessing in disguise? During that first torturous week it didn't seem to be. But as the grand final finished, Kubler-Ross' final stage kicked in: Acceptance.
With an ease I could barely believe, I let go. While only ten days earlier I honestly believed I?d be haunted by what happened for the rest of my life, it no longer seemed to matter. My mind began again to fill with other distractions. A celebrated bookworm, I found myself buying a novel for the first time in a while. I took in a movie, and I already plan to see several more. And yes, I even went out on Saturday night. Would I have taken these same steps had the Dragons infact won the premiership instead of flopping as they did? Probably, but as Buddha taught, existence is suffering, and I defer to him for the final word.
"It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell."
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