It was October 24, 2020, and the Los Angeles Dodgers were facing the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 4 of the World Series. I was huddled in front of my iPad on a hotel bed, watching the game on YouTube TV. It had a been a back and forth game, with lots of scoring – enough see-sawing to drive even higher the already high anxiety levels of this Dodger fan. But the Dodgers had made it to the bottom of the 9th Inning with the lead, having scored the go-ahead run in the top of the 8th.
Ok, so: Bottom of the 9th. A one run lead. Two out.
Two strikes on a seldom-used Rays outfielder named Brett Phillips.
The Dodger closer Kenley Jansen was ready to shut the door on a Tampa Bay rally, ready to give the Dodgers a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Then, everything went to hell.
Phillips lined a single to center, bringing in the tying run for the Rays. Then, Dodger center fielder Chris Taylor literally kicked the ball, and Rays star Randy Arozarena – who started on first! – just ran and ran. Taylor retrieved the ball and threw it to Dodger first baseman Max Muncy. Muncy relayed it to Dodger catcher Will Smith. Arozarena FELL DOWN rounding third base and should have been out at home plate by 30 feet. But the ball from Muncy to Smith ricocheted away, and Arozarena got up, sprinted some more, and slid safely, head-first, into home plate, giving the Rays a series-tying win.
To say my heart sank in my chest is an understatement. Such a historically ridiculous defeat was, quite literally, shocking: I sat silently, in shock, on the bed, with my wife, not saying a word, not moving, for what must have been 10 minutes. Or longer. I don’t even know. I just sat there, looking past the screen showing the Rays’ celebration. Brutal. Heart-wrenching. Totally in shock.
Unfortunately, that heart-wrenching, shocking, historically wild sense of defeat that I felt in October 2020 was not an aberration in 2020. That sense of loss, where you know you are living through something historically intense but are seemingly unable to do anything about it, was the same feeling I’d felt consistently during much of the COVID-19 pandemic – as we all watched the world shut down, the stock market plunge, the layoffs hit, and the case numbers skyrocket. Add to it America’s systemic inequalities coming again to our collective front and center, and our internal “fight or flight” systems were, and have been, on overload for some time.
For me, the feeling has been one where I feel like my heart is sinking. Or that a gaping black hole has opened up inside me.
It’s interesting, right, that we use the phrase “my heart is sinking” in moments like these – when we know, of course, that our hearts aren’t physically moving downwards in our chest. We know black holes don’t just appear inside the human body, yet we intimately know that there are times of great loss or trauma or grief where a gaping hole opens up inside of us and there’s nothing we can do but sit on a bed, be silent, look at nothing in particular, and just FEEL.
What’s also interesting to me is that that sinking feeling, that feeling of a gaping hole inside me, hasn’t altogether gone away now that we’ve reached the end of May 2021 – despite the effectiveness of the vaccines, the decline of case numbers, the resurgence in our economy, and some forms of justice in our legal system. A better way to put it is that that sinking feeling, that gaping hole, returns regularly, sometimes for no reason, as an unwelcome reminder that the world can change drastically in very small amounts of time.
It’s as if my body – my mind and my insides – is telling me that life as we know it, as wonderful and precious as it is, is also so, so precarious.
The 2020 Dodgers went on to win the next two games against the Rays – ending a 30+ years World Series drought and setting themselves up for World Series contention for years to come. My first sports memory was Kirk Gibson’s walk off homer against Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, and, after winning that series, it took 30+ years for the Dodgers to get back on top, but not without a lot of effort and heartbreak and learning along the way.
Maybe that will be the case with us, too, as we start to emerge from this pandemic season. It might take years and a lot of effort and heartbreak and learning for us to regain the “normalcy” – whatever that means – that we had pre-COVID. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a historically intense season for all of us, and add to it the social justice component, and we really have our work cut out for us both as a society and as individuals with sensitive mental health realities.
But my hope is that, even though we lost so much in 2020, 2021 and beyond can be a kind of beautiful comeback for us all. A comeback where our society is more safe and equitable and just and holy and good. A comeback where, despite the fight or flight reminders that will inevitably come, we will be able to, sooner rather than later, hold our heads high and say we’ve come out on top.
We may have lost the game with COVID-19 and 2020, but hopefully we can win the series in the months and years to come. Who knows? It might only take two more games before we’re able to raise that trophy again.