Almanac Life: Ulysses recalled – Farewell to The Brick.

 

I hadn’t seen The Brick in quite some time. He had played with our veterans cricket team a few times last summer and even then I didn’t see anything to make me think he wasn’t the same old Brick.

 

Sure we had all got older and weaker with age and time and a lot less rowdy when celebrating, but the Brick still seemed strong and vital.

 

‘The Brick’ of course, was called ‘The Brick’ because of his build – like a Brick Shithouse. The Brick was big and tall and The Brick was tough. If there was a barney during a footy game, if The Brick hadn’t started it, he would be the first on the scene throwing his weight around and taking blows from all sides. Never took a backward step they used to say about The Brick. And they were right. Everyone walked a little taller with The Brick on their team.

 

There was never a lead that The Brick didn’t think could be reeled in. He once kicked six of nine unanswered goals to put us into the finals in the last game of the season.

 

In a cricket final we were six for 66 chasing 154 and The Brick saw us home batting with the number 11. His 68 including two sixes and  10 fours.

 

His attitude was that he was never beaten in a competitive game, and even when just playing darts or table tennis in the clubrooms,  The Brick would suddenly switch on if he was challenged, and reel off three twenties or ten winners.

 

The Brick loved to be in the centre of the crowd after the game, slinging the shots and copping it back. It was always a little bit louder and a little bit funnier when the Brick was on song.

 

Once we had finished playing weekly competitive sport, I lost track of The Brick, as you do when you all get involved in other things like work and family and life’s slings and arrows. I had some memory that the Brick married late and had children but I can’t recall ever having seen them. The Brick would show up at irregular flag reunions and past player days and for a few hours would be the same old Brick. On those days we enjoyed the easy familiarity of those who had, when young and strong, campaigned on sporting fields  together and won memorable victories. We were a bit like Ulysses’ comrades whom Tennyson described:

 

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

But we weren’t close friends away from sport. I occasionally bumped into The Brick at the shops or at Bunnings and the chat would not extend much past the usual pleasantries and a ribbing about weight gain or hair loss, as is the way with middle-aged men.

 

When we reached the age for veterans cricket, during summer  we saw more of each other than we had for a long time, as we turned out and tried to recapture past glories. Even at this level, The Brick was still awesome to watch when the competitive juices started flowing or a challenge was laid down, but he often had work commitments which precluded him playing, and when he did, he tended not to stay round for long after games. Not that that mattered. Everyone was just happy to see The Brick and watch him turn back the clock with a “Brick Special” occasionally.

 

But, as I say, I hadn’t seen The Brick since one of our last games in the cricket season and we were now in the cold and wet, dark days of winter and the sunny bright blue skies and gentle breezes of summer were long behind us.

 

I was walking through the local supermarket when I spotted The Brick with a woman I took to be his wife. They were holding hands. The Brick looked tired and drawn and thin and gaunt. Not the old Brick at all. He spotted me about the same time I saw them and he seemed uncertain as I called out his name and hurried over to them.

 

I put my hand out and he embraced it tightly in his own. And held it a moment or two longer than usual. The Brick introduced me to his wife, but when I asked how he was, as you do without a second thought, he paused briefly. “Not too well actually mate” he eventually offered. “I’ve had some bad news”.

 

He didn’t really need to tell me what it was. Men of our age who are looking like The Brick now did, can  only really have had bad news of one sort. Cancer. And so it was.

 

For the next couple of minutes we talked and I heard words from The Brick I had never heard, nor, frankly, expected to hear, given how  healthy and vital and strong The Brick had always seemed. And because the dialect we usually spoke was along the meaningless lines of ‘Boofhead’, ‘Champ’, ‘Too easy’, ‘same again?’

 

Now it was    ‘Blood cell count’ ‘X rays’ ‘Radiotherapy’ ‘Chemotherapy’ ‘further tests’ ‘hard on the family’.

 

I wasn’t sure what you said to someone like The Brick when confronted with this sort of existential language in the local supermarket on a Saturday morning. I wasn’t prepared. I wonder if you ever could be.

 

I made some sympathetic noises and ended by saying, with what I hoped was an unconcerned conviction “Well, look after yourself Brick. Get yourself well and we’ll look forward to seeing you in the nets next season”.

 

He looked at me doubtfully, and although he hadn’t said anything about the prognosis, and I hadn’t asked, I could tell that making it to the next season and even to the next Spring, was clearly an optimistic and outside prospect.

 

I put out my hand and he gripped it again. I looked into his eyes and was startled to see something there I had never seen before in The Brick. I knew instantly what it was. It was fear. Fear that there was, for the first time, a total he couldn’t chase down with his attitude and courage and raw confidence in his own abilities.  A challenge that for once he might not be able to defeat.

 

And suddenly I felt it too. Mainly for The Brick and what he now faced and for the quiet woman by his side and the children I had never met.  But also for me and for all of us – no longer young and strong. Facing reality. Facing mortality. Facing the beginning of the end.

 

I wandered off and turned back momentarily to watch The Brick and his wife walking away hand in hand towards the checkout. It occurred to me then that I might not see The Brick again. That we had just said goodbye forever. I wondered if I should run after him and say something else, but really, what more could you say? The only thing that could matter to The Brick now was to offer him a miracle, and I didn’t have one in my trolley.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Fantastic read John, a terrific and moving tribute to The Brick, I struggled to hold back the tears.

  2. Hayden Kelly says

    Beautiful John

  3. Nothing I can add.
    It sounds so familiar.
    Thanks for this, John.

  4. Rulebook says

    Thanks John unfortunately beautifully put a all to familiar scenario

  5. Lovely article John cheers

  6. Daryl Schramm says

    A very moving circumstance John. Thanks for posting. I’m following the progress of a mate’s 12 month old granddaughter at present. #FUCancer.

  7. Mark Courtney says

    Beautiful piece John.
    Captures the man, the situation and the feeling of sheer helplessness we feel when confronted by it.
    A reminder to squeeze everything we can from every day.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  8. John Gordon says

    Thanks everyone. So sorry to hear that Daryl. There are few worse things than Children suffering with cancer. It is the definition of unfairness in life because they have so much of it to live and they are at an age when they should be carefree and happy. power to her and your family.

  9. Powerful & poignant. Our fear of death leads us to largely dismiss it or trivialise discussions around it. I always liked Phillip Adams point that “we are the only species that knows we are going to die” which drives the human need for progress and inquiry. If not now – when? If not me – who?
    I worked in the US in 1988 and got to hear a doctor turned politician John Kitzhaber (later became Governor of Oregon) speak at a conference. He said he liked to go back to his hospital and attend teaching rounds as a way of staying connected to the reality of patients and clinical staff. A newspaper journalist had asked to follow him for a working day to write a profile.
    In the course of the day he sat with a group therapy session of cancer patients. After listening to the sort of mortality reflections you and Brick tentatively pursued he quoted Shakespeare “we all owe God a death”.
    Headlines in the newspaper next day – “Politician tells cancer patients to drop dead”.
    https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/oregons-experiment-prioritizing-public-health-care-services/2011-04

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