I don't do third level conversation.
By that, I'm referring to the three levels of getting personal when you're talking to someone.
Level 1) It's raining outside
Level 2) The rain makes me feel sad sometimes.
Level 3) It was raining the day we buried my Grandpa, and when it rains I sometimes think about that day. I wish I'd gotten to know him better.
See the progression? I'm strictly a level one kind of guy for the most part. I'm not comfortable talking about serious stuff, because serious stuff is usually sad. And I'd way rather make people laugh than have almost any other type of discussion. I might go up to level two every now and then, but there's almost no way anyone but my wife sees level three.
That said, some pretty real crap is going down right now. Eric Berry appears to be sick. Maybe really sick.
Almost a year ago I lost a good friend (I want as many people as possible to hear Wade's name and read a little about him. He deserves to be remembered) to cancer. Disease is an ugly, ugly reality I don't like to talk about. Too real. Plus, there's no way to talk about it that doesn't sound ... hollow. There aren't words for someone who, you know, might die. What do you say?
I don't know how to write about the odd emotions one feels when a person they've watched play a sport for four-plus years (and in my case, written multiple columns on and studied dozens of hours of tape) gets sick. Because really, the emotions don't quite make sense.
Why do I care? Why do any of us?
I'm sure that sounds insanely callous. I promise you, I'm not a cold person. It's a genuine question. I don't know Eric. He's not a friend of mine. I'll very, very likely never meet him. By all accounts he's a really good guy, but good people get sick every day and I don't bat an eye. So why does it have an emotional impact on me that THIS particular good person is sick?
Maybe it's the "superhero" effect. We've all seen Berry cover 10 yards like a homing device and blow up a ball carrier. We watch him on TV constantly. He's not a person, he's a robot. Just like the rest of the superhuman beings competing every Sunday.
Then we discover he's not. We find he's made from the same blood, tissue, bone, and muscle as the rest of us. And sometimes, the cells that make up those parts just ... betray us. And suddenly Eric stops being "them" and becomes one of "us." He's just a guy who is living on borrowed time like every other human being on the planet. That's a bit disconcerting, no? But I don't think that's what's bothering me.
It could also be an issue of facing our own mortality. Like I said above, we're all on borrowed time. Every one of us. Since we're all pretty selfish (no offense to anyone out there. But c'mon ... we're all more concerned about ourselves than most others the majority of the time), it's only natural that news about someone else would make us think about ourselves.
"You are going to die one day, and you're going to be there when it happens."
My dad told me that once, and I never forgot it. Somehow, the idea of actually BEING there when I die had never occurred to me. It's a sobering realization. I'm going to experience taking a last breath. I'm going to close my eyes (maybe) and never open them again. It's just ... weird. I've always, you know, woken up.
Along with that comes how SUDDENLY stuff can happen. Eric was just living his life. So was my friend Wade. Then a little chest pain (or throat discomfort, in Wade's case) and one MRI later your whole life is altered. The clock is now ticking. Every plan you had has been blown up. That's scary. We humans love our precious plans. And when someone has theirs ruined we're forced to think about how little we control those plans. You think you control your life? You're just a few rogue cells from having it snatched away.
My guess is that's a big part of it for most people. They're not necessarily sad about Eric (though I'm sure that's part of it, seeing a young man's plans thrown out the window). They're somber about themselves.
Of course, you have to account for how much we fans adopt players as some sort of strange extended family. And really, that's no exaggeration. We LOVE the Chiefs. We care so, so, so much about the team. Not just the wins and losses, either (though that's what ultimately makes us tick as fans). We care about the players we've watched develop over the years. We feel like we know them because we've put so much time into seeing their efforts on the field.
Like I said above, I've spent a ton of time watching Eric as a player. I've written multiple articles that took hours of film study. You start to recognize a player's tendencies. The way they move, the moments that get them fired up, what other players they consistently seem to talk to or celebrate with. It genuinely makes you feel like you know someone. Even when you really don't.
Fanhood makes us care. It's why a team wearing a certain set of colors losing a game can have an emotional impact on us. And that caring bleeds into the players wearing those colors, even for the most jaded fan. Especially when it's a player who seems to put SO MUCH EFFORT into every snap, the way Eric does.
Ultimately, though, I think the reason hearing Eric's rough news causes emotion in us is that we find ourselves thinking about other people. I think about sickness long enough and my mind drifts off Eric.
I think about big man with a great, big, giant heart who left (entirely against his will after putting up an epic fight) a widow and three kids last year. I think about a buddy in high school who was always smiling until a terrible accident took him and his sister. I think about a stupid dog that couldn't even swim and never learned how to hunt. I think about a baby I never named and only held once.
Yeah, I think I figured out why it gets to me me when a guy I've never met gets sick.
To close out a subject I don't like talking about and an article I didn't set out to write ... Look, Eric Berry doesn't know my name (though he did make my year by following me on Twitter some time ago), and he's got all the support he needs without me writing some kind of flowery column urging him to fight. Based on what I know of the man, he's going to do exactly that.
If I seem to ignore the human side of the issue in future articles, it's not because I'm callous or have forgotten what's happened to Eric. It's because I don't like doing this. I don't like thinking about this stuff. And sometimes, not thinking about it is all we can really do.
One final thought, and then it'll be back to football next column; I'm not generally a betting man, but I'd bet on Eric Berry here. You can tell a lot looking into a man's eyes. Dude's not going down easy.