It was a Monday morning just months ago that I heard the news: Tony Gwynn had passed away at the age of 54. I was working at the time, here with SB Nation, and it was hard to stomach, let alone process, the news. The workflow was simply too much.
It wasn't until later that the unexpected hit home, and I found myself surprised by my level of sorrow. We all feel a sadness at the passing of someone too soon. Part of what makes us human is the idea that each of us is bestowed with an expected beauty to bring to the world, and we shake our collective heads when someone's ability to fully live that out is taken away. But this one felt different.
I grew up a San Diego Padres fan, a young boy from Evansville, Indiana who found the rhythms of baseball and the force of football appealing at the same time, around at the age of 10. A local kid, Andy Benes, was taken first overall by the Pads in the MLB Draft, and I decided I'd follow him. It didn't take long for a love of Gwynn to take root, and he quickly became one of my favorite players.
Twenty-seven years later, Gwynn was gone and so was a childhood icon. It wasn't so much about the loss of a baseball great. That's not that uncommon given the game's tremendous history and the rare ability to celebrate it so well. Rather, it was a rare reminder from the sports world that we are all finite, that despite the expectations we have, there's no guarantee of our envisioned tomorrows.
The sports world generally takes us away from such sobering thoughts. Millions of people gather around their televisions each Sunday to watch the big game as a way of escape. It is the circus of our Roman Empire, the theater we look upon to forget the cares we live with in the hopes that a few hours out of our own minds, out of our own lives, will bring us some relief, some comfort, some thrill. And when we're let down with a loss, for example, it is the reason we get more bent out of shape than perhaps we should.
Every now and then, however, the game is not a distraction. It is the drum. In these rare moments, the figures we look to are not larger-than-life heroes, but real-to-life peers, dealing with the same tensions, hopes, frustrations, and desires that drive us all. We received another such moment on Monday with the news that Chiefs safety Eric Berry had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. No opinions. No banter. Just silence as the starkness of reality -- of what is really real -- settled in.
It's hard to like sports in these moments. It's why, when tragedy strikes, the interviews afterward feature players and coaches talking about how little anything on the field actually mattered. They're in shock. So are we. Such theater is supposed to have story lines that move beyond us, not ones about us.
But we also face an important opportunity in a moment like this: a chance for us all to be reminded of the brevity and beauty of life. Eric helped us to find words for such a moment with his own bravery in the face of the disease. From his statement given on Monday:
I will embrace this process and attack it the same way I do everything else in life. God has more than prepared me for it. For everyone sharing similar struggles, I'm praying for you and keep fighting!
It is in that statement that Berry reaches out to us and says, "I am in this with you." That is not true of sports most of the time. It is us and them. But in the end, it is all of us together. We might not appreciate reminders of this fact, since it makes us face some uncomfortable facts in the process, but we're all the better for the reflection and consideration if we allow ourselves to face them. This time, we have Eric Berry to thank for that.