Fighting a losing battle with dignity
Suppose you’re on a soccer team. (Forgive me, I’m an American; forgive the barbarism “soccer.”)
Your team is awful. And you’re playing against the best team in the country.
You’re going to lose. You know it. Your teammates know it. The opposing team knows it.
The opposing team scores again and again. They score so often and so easily there’s no elation in it. They’re bored. A couple of the players even stop to smoke a cigarette midfield. It makes no difference: except that the remaining players are now momentarily entertained to see if they can still dominate with the handicap. They can; they continue to score.
But there’s something different about your team. It has pride. It has said “f— you” inwardly to the other team (though not outwardly, as its members are gentlemanly); it’s said “f— you” to the universe itself; its pride is its “Ground of Being”; it knows no metaphysics other than its own integrity. What does this mean?
This means your team keeps playing. It keeps trying. It sweats, but it never becomes shamefaced; it never stops running. It never throws in the towel. It never asks for mercy; it never asks to be the exception.
At the end of the game, after being shut out, it asks for a rematch with a straight face. In so asking it gains the respect of the other team. The other team senses no bitterness in your team: your team was glad to have had the opportunity of playing for the sake of playing; was glad to feel its muscles tensing and releasing; was glad to inhale the scent of the grass; was glad to have gotten out, on a Saturday, and been in the sun. Your team fought a losing battle and it knew it; yet it fought.
Life is like this. In the end we die and everything is smashed to pieces. We know this. And yet we bravely behave as though it weren’t true. I say “bravely” non-ironically. There are times when it’s wise to laugh at our foibles, wise to laugh at the foibles of others. But there are also times when it’s wise to marvel at human integrity, human courage: especially those in defense of lost causes—and our mortality is certainly a lost cause.
It’s as if we were boxers, assured of our ultimately losing the fight; and yet, we come out swinging: every punch we throw has our full weight behind it. We are determined that if we’re to lose, we’re going to demolish the face of our opponent as much as we can, while we can: and we’ll be damned if he isn’t bruised and bloodied.
So we make our mark on the world, or attempt to. We carve out a place, we leave children behind; we publish books; we say, “I was here.” And we mean it. Even if there’s no echo, we scream our presence. The sound waves travel where they may: lost in the atmosphere, dispersed. But we were here; we sounded ourselves.
And isn’t that glorious?