Sunday, April 14, 2013

Lament for the Injured: "I Have No Achilles"

It's not every day that I think, of a player like Kobe Bryant, "I know how he feels." A few days ago Bryant ruptured his Achilles tendon. He was remarkably composed in the interview he gave right after the game. This injury is one of the worst. Few come back from it. He might very well have just played his last game as a professional athlete. Asked what he was thinking right after it happened, he said that he was hoping that the sensation would come back to him. "What sensation?" a reporter asked. "I have no Achilles," he answered. Meaning, he lost the sensation of having an Achilles tendon in that foot.

Shortly afterwards, Bryant gave us surprising access to his feelings in a now widely circulated lament. (From Kobe Bryant's Facebook page.)
This is such BS! All the training and sacrifice just flew out the window with one step that I've done millions of times! The frustration is unbearable. The anger is rage. Why the hell did this happen ?!? Makes no damn sense. Now I'm supposed to come back from this and be the same player Or better at 35?!? How in the world am I supposed to do that??
I have NO CLUE. Do I have the consistent will to overcome this thing? Maybe I should break out the rocking chair and reminisce on the career that was. Maybe this is how my book ends. 
Maybe Father Time has defeated me...Then again maybe not! It's 3:30am, my foot feels like dead weight, my head is spinning from the pain meds and I'm wide awake. Forgive my Venting but what's the purpose of social media if I won't bring it to you Real No Image?? Feels good to vent, let it out. To feel as if THIS is the WORST thing EVER! Because After ALL the venting, a real perspective sets in. There are far greater issues/challenges in the world then a torn achilles. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, find the silver lining and get to work with the same belief, same drive and same conviction as ever. 
How we rubber band in our sense of injury - from "this is the worst thing ever" to "this is not the worst thing ever." From "this is hopeless" to "I can fix this." From feeling like you've been robbed - as if all your training and care somehow was supposed to make you invulnerable - to recalling that this is what happens. And maybe that same training will make you "invulnerable" again. Despair and denial. I've been there. Who hasn't? Or won't be?

Immediately after the injury - an injury Bryant can't blame on anyone or anything - he took two free throws and tied up the game. He must have been filled with dread. He must have been hoping that the feeling of his foot as a "dead weight" might pass, like a mood. He would have been trying to will it to be different - to not be what he knew it was. He would have known exactly what was wrong - each sport has its own terrors. The "pop" of a tendon, a ligament. The slow erosion, the tear and disintegration of cuffs, joints, cartilage. The door through which most exit. There are things you can't see coming but which you know are very real possibilities for you. And there are things you do see coming, but which you can't - won't - think about - as there is nothing on earth you can do to stop it, except stop playing. Who can say what is worse - to have your career ended for you by a ruptured tendon? Or to wear yourself out by playing through the disintegration of (for example) your knees?

And there is the shock: that this thing that is happening to you isn't just going to take you out of the game. It is going to change your relationship to your own physicality - forever. You can't play basketball, for example, because you can't run.

There are a lot of former basketball players relating to Bryant. People who loved the game, for whom it was their most reliable source of pleasure. The game was taken from them with a pop and rip. You do not have to play in the NBA to know what that feels like. We have spirit guides in our injury. Athletes through whom we understand our own pain, our own exits. Mine is Stuart Holden, except, of course, he is still playing. I am not.

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