On the train to work on Tuesday morning I casually turned from my book to the Age website to see what was happening in the world. Plane still missing. Check. More guesses than Cup tips about why it crashed. Check. Putin holding Crimea hostage. Check. Barrack Obama threatens to huff and blow his house down. Check. Abbott threatens to cut back free oxygen entitlement. Australians breathing beyond their means. Check. Shorten says we should all be able to huff and puff as much as we like. Check.
Then the headline that rocked me, and had me re-reading and checking to see if it could possibly be true. “Dean Bailey dead of cancer at 47.”
Wasn’t he on TV taking pre-season training a little while ago at whatever club he works at these days? Adelaide Crows? Check.
Isn’t he 11 years younger than me? Check.
Wasn’t he a clean living, active, purposeful guy who always seemed to see the glass as half-full? Check – as much as you can ‘know’ anyone from the footy media.
Wasn’t he one of the ‘good guys’ of footy coaching? In an industry full of egomaniacs and control freaks, hadn’t he always seemed to put young men – their lives and not just their footy talent – first? Hadn’t he told the truth and been punished and humiliated for it, when lesser men would have told the easy lies – and got $2 million salary bonuses for their skill at insider trading and public dissembling? Big Check.
The things that shock you in life are those that you don’t see coming. That there is no logical rhyme or reason for in all the shrewd risk assessment skills we acquire in life’s lottery. And those where at some tangential level we feel we can identify with the unfortunate ‘victim’.
With Dean Bailey I ticked all the boxes for some reason or other. Death normally makes me sad and reflective. But it rarely shocks me as it did today.
I found myself turning to one of the 3 Buddhist Noble Truths of “Impermanence”. Indulge me for a minute in a small extract from a philosophical text:
According to the teachings of the Buddha, life is comparable to a river. It is a progressive moment, a successive series of different moments, joining together to give the impression of one continuous flow. It moves from cause to cause, effect to effect, one point to another, one state of existence to another, giving an outward impression that it is one continuous and unified movement, where as in reality it is not. The river of yesterday is not the same as the river of today. The river of this moment is not going to be the same as the river of the next moment. So does life. It changes continuously, becomes something or the other from moment to moment. (www.urbandharma.org)
To be attached to things we cannot control is to be doomed to disappointment and ultimately frustration, fear and anger. And most of the big things in life are beyond our control. My genes, earlier life stresses, excessive consumption or a thousand other things may already have destined me for cancer or dementia. Government budget cuts may shorten my career. Chinese iron ore prices may see thousands of ‘self-reliant’ West Australians following the career trajectory of ‘old economy’ workers at Ford and Toyota. A brilliant new coach and a fit, motivated playing list may still see my Eagles finish 13th again (please Lord, not that).
Somehow acknowledging all those possibilities actually seems quite liberating these days. Because it helps me embrace the many smaller things I can control in this moment; this minute; this hour and (at a stretch) this day. The kind word; the connection to a service that can assist a struggling client; the apology for yesterday’s snipe; the phone call to a friend; the overdue message to dad; and the hug for my loved ones.
Chances are it adds up to something meaningful for myself and for others. But if chance isn’t kind then I (we) have all still had those moments (that day). And that is all we can really guarantee in a life that Damon Runyon aptly said “is always 6 to 5 against”.
Bailey’s death also reminded me of many of the sentiments expressed by Roger Angell, the greatest American baseball writer of the last 50 years, in a recent piece in the New Yorker magazine. Angell is now 93 and has outlived virtually all of his contemporaries. He is still healthy and independent – for a 93 year old. The piece is called “This Old Man – Life in the 90’s.”
Read it for the sparkling prose and how he feints, beguiles and delivers surprises you don’t see coming. Read it for his passionate embrace of the moment; the possible; no matter how that might be constrained by the limits of advanced age.
Above all I found it reassuring when he says how much he thought about death when he was in his sixties. The things undone that haunted him then. In his 90’s there are still things undone, despite a rollicking life and prodigious output. My reassurance was that death and those many things undone are no longer a concern for him.
Embracing the moment is now too precious to even glance backward with regret or envy.
Many, many thanks Dean.
The full Roger Angell article can be read at: