The Heart of the Matter
I recognize that my general befuddlement over football’s appeal and ignorance at its rules—borne of my abhorrence with its frequent damage to bodies and brains and its personal violence—makes me an outlier of an American and an especially weird Texan. I understand the impulse to gather with community; to cheer for and marvel at athletic, competitive proxies; to yearn for the thrill of victory and mourn over losses and failures that have (usually) lower stakes in our personal lives—but why not basketball and soccer, then, maybe track and swimming and a few other sports (baseball? tennis?), to go the distance for us, to fully satisfy our urges? All that being said, though, I am fascinated by the unusually long arc of the quarterback Tom Brady’s career, by his recent second retirement, by the connections between and implications of all this and the ice storm in central Texas this week.
As waves of rain fell and froze and accumulated, thousands of pounds of water weight were added to the outstretched limbs of the trees around our home and throughout our neighborhood. The trees—having suffered through and sustained losses during a similar icing and the prolonged deep freeze of February of 2021 followed by the high heat and drought of the summer of 2022—bore their burdens for even more hours until, finally, they shouted defeat, broke limbs off or split through their hearts, and collapsed to the ground (or the roof of a house or the windshield of a car). All throughout Tuesday night and even more for all of Wednesday and into early Thursday, we heard the shots and the cracks followed by the rush of leaves and branches; we were vigilant for the location of each impact. One tree was perhaps thirty years old; another tree was maybe fifty; the most resistant live oaks are into the hundreds of years old, now jaggedly, severely pruned. R. consoled the four of us last night as we inventoried and mourned the losses, as we felt in our bodies the damage done, as we wondered at the center not holding: Any living being only gets so many years, he reminded us—plants, pets and other animals, including humans—we only have so long to live our “one wild and precious life.”
I’m reminded of an article in The Upshot of the New York Times: “The Tom Brady of Other Jobs: Meet the people as old in their jobs as Tom Brady is in his: the oldest 1 percent of the work force, across a range of professions.” The two oldest were a 95-year-old woman visual artist and an 88-year-old woman composer, and their briefly told stories delight and intrigue me, inspire and compel me. Imaginative creativity—even in their old ages—is central to their identities, to their work, to their productivity, and I want to stand up for them and shout, “You go! All the way to the end! Keep doing that thing that you love, that you’re so good at, that brings you joy! Please mark a path for me, and I’ll be running behind you by a few decades, hoping to run as far and with as much grace as you!”