If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down. – David Foster Wallace. “This Is Water.”
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. – Matthew 12:30 (NSRV)
It seems pretty much everyone has something to say about Lance. And Lance and Oprah. I didn’t want to add to that, because I don’t think it really matters too much what I think about Lance. Or Oprah. Or Lance and Oprah. But watching Lance made me start to think (or, more accurately, it made me think about some rather specific things in particular), and it made me realize that I had some things I wanted to write down, as much for myself as for anyone else. So I suppose the short answer is that this is about Lance. And it’s not about Lance. Anyway…
I’ve been an in patient in a hospital twice in my adult life. I was also, briefly, an in-patient like most newborns, and in my case it didn’t help that I was born orange and had a slightly extended stint under a black light until I de-jaundiced; but I don’t really consider that to be applicable, mostly because I don’t remember any of it and it doesn’t seem to have shaped me in any deep or meaningful way (I’m not orange anymore…). But the other two times I remember very well. Too well, sometimes. The first was a three day affair – 72 hours, for those who recognize the particular significance of that number – in 1999 – 2000; it actually occurred over the millennial changeover, the irony of which is still not lost on me. I was admitted because I thought I might kill myself. Now, to be clear, it wasn’t that I had any desire to commit suicide; I did not. However, I seemed less fond of self-preservation than is advisable, and I was worried that I might do something that would ultimately result in my dying, like voluntarily putting my head through a window, which I had done a couple weeks prior (the irony of this is also not lost on me), thankfully without much consequence beyond picking some glass out of my head the next morning. While the difference between killing myself and committing suicide may seem like splitting hairs, I assure you that it is not, literary roots aside (sui+cide = literally self+killing; thank you six years of Latin).
It was a surreal 72 hours. I watched the ball drop on New Year’s Eve in a room with chain link fencing covering all the windows. I had to ask permission to get my electric razor from the orderly desk to shave. I ate every meal with plastic utensils. I had a guy with heavy scar tissue on both wrists from repeated slashings tell me that I was crazy. I was put on Depakote (a mood stabilizer, because they thought I might be bi-polar), Celexa (an SSRI, because they thought I might be depressed), and Adderall (because they thought I might be ADD/ADHD). I remained on some combination of those three medications until I graduated from college two and a half years later, though ultimately – in my case – I’d be hard pressed to tell you that they did anything. What I think I really needed was perspective. I needed to grow up. Now, this is not to say that growing up is a substitute for neuropharmacological treatment. I have my own reservations and issues with the state of neuropharmacology, but these medications can help people, and I would never say that those people just need a bit of perspective instead of their pills. But in my case, the former seems, in retrospect, to have been what I lacked. I don’t think I was bi-polar; I think I was “monochromar.”
My problem, to put it in the simplest terms, was that I wanted – needed – the world to be black and white. Unfortunately, the world is rather grey. And when you leave a very structured home and academic world for the very unstructured combination home and academic world of college, the world gets a whole lot greyer in a hurry. And I struggled with that. A lot. Failure. Success. That was the basic split that I tended to view the world as having. Black. White. After three days, I left without a very different view of the world, but with quite a different view of my own self. And, over a long period of time, I think I learned to stop seeing things so monochromatically. Getting married helped with that. Becoming and being a parent helped with that a lot. And, I think more than anything, my second go as an in-patient helped me the most.
In a total reversal of my first trip to the hospital, I ended up in the ER on March 23, 2010 through no actions of my own. A driver pulled out in front of me, and, after my head taking an involuntary trip through one of the windows of his car, he drove off leaving me in the road to die. And then Tom Sanchez decided to get out of his car and stick his hand inside a gaping hole in my neck. And then some very capable EMTs and surgeons took over. And by the time I woke up, I was no longer about to die. I never – as Lance did – had to stare my own death in the face. In that way, we are very different. My overcoming death was not the result of my own determination, as some may say that Lance’s was. My overcoming death was entirely the result of other people’s goodness. But I was certainly made aware of my own mortality. And in that, I share a lot with Lance. We both should be dead. But we are not. But I think that, perhaps, Lance’s fight with cancer lead him to believe even more in himself, whereas my fight lead me to believe even more in other people. We both came out of our ordeals with faith, but faith of a different sort than I think many people understand that word to mean. I do not believe in God. I don’t know that I’d call myself an atheist; it’s more that I don’t believe in the capital-G god that people pray to. I don’t believe in an “active” god. What I do believe in is people. Tom Sanchez picked me up off the pavement. Brian Kimbrell, Hillary Cholet, Gil and Zol Kryger, and quite a few others stitched me back together. I believe in them. And I believe that they are more – rather than less – representative of humanity.
Those who read a lot of what I write will know that if there is anything that I despise right now, it is the dysfunctional politics that have paralyzed and crippled our country. The polarization in our national organizations of government and in our country at large are not something I want to see pervade every area of our lives. I am tired of the “for me or against me” attitude that is rotting us a species from the inside out. I am tired of the lack of respect for other, different, contrary points of view.
I do not agree with the decisions that Lance made. But I understand them – at least in part. I know what’s it’s like to be a wildman raging against a “dying of the light.” I think every man who wants to be the best at whatever they do knows that feeling. In this particular area, I think there are fundamental differences between men and women. Two of the most critical – and well written and thought out – pieces on Lance have been written by elite female athletes, Nicole Cooke
and Lauren Fleshman
. Certainly, female athletes can dope. But I think, in general, they do it for different reasons. The want – and need – to win is obviously common to both genders. But the why that’s at the root of it is, in my opinion, different. I haven’t yet read an equally harsh condemnation of Lance and his decisions by a male athlete; I’m sure one is out there, but I also think that the idea of alpha-maleness is something that is so common to a lot of male beings, especially at the pointy end in competitive fields, that it can be hard to really and truly condemn it the way a woman can. Lance didn’t just want to win. He wanted to be relevant. I know what that’s like. It’s the exact same reason I railed against him on twitter
My reservations about Lance making a return to sport are largely the same as they were when he made the move to triathlon. But I don’t believe, as Lauren does, that there is any “unforgivable sin.” I don’t even believe that to be true of people. Are some people beyond help? I expect there are. But does that mean we don’t try and give up on them entirely? I’m not ready to take that position anymore. Lance will always be the ruthless, manipulative, driven, maniacal narcissist that he admitted to being on Oprah. But I don’t think that’s all he is. I think that’s his “black.” But I also think that there’s a lot of “white” – the guy who had to tell his son to stop defending him because the accusations were true. Lance is both. He’s grey. He’s a human being. And I believe in human beings.
Not knowing the first part of this story, I had a friend, recently, tell me that I, “needed more black and white in my life.” We were not discussing Lance, though he was a topic on which this particular friend and I had disagreed quite strongly. And that assessment was also something with which I disagreed. I don’t need more black and white. I don’t want more black and white. The world is very grey. And I want more of the world. A lot more. I’ve almost lost my chance at having more of the world, and I will not give it up voluntarily. Not that he needs it from me, but I forgive Lance. Not that he needs it from me, but I would give Lance another chance. Why? Because I think everyone deserves that.