The Red Sox are done for 2005 – cooked in three quick games. The pain of elimination, one year after winning it all, is nothing like that same pain in years past. It is nothing remotely like the pain of the 2003 post-season, in which some demon scripted a particularly cruel eleventh-hour defeat at the hands of the Yankees.
These days, that loss is seen primarily as a dramatic backstory to the championship that followed. But I suspect that I am not alone in finding the loss in 2003 to be a more magnetic and beguiling memory even than the unbelievable victory in 2004. This is not nostalgia for defeat, more a sense of touching something deeper. There is a particular song I listened to often during the 2003 race, a haunting instrumental piece called “Lauren’s Waltz.” To this day, whenever I hear it, I am suddenly back in that moment of loss and punished hope. So close. The sense of frustrated longing was so aching, so piercing and intense. Of course much of my own personal pain was projected onto that loss… there is an implicit promise that victory in sports means victory over all adversity. Why should defeat be more memorable than victory? Because in life we do not win the way one wins a baseball game. All longing, once requited, is simply replaced by more longing, an endless cycle which must ultimately be frustrated. There is no end to longing, only to life. I ache therefore I am. 2004 was an embrace of victory. Victory is joyous, brash, impermanent. She will leave. 2003 was an embrace of unrequited longing. She is the one who will always love you. Love her, and you can know peace.
Losing brings fellowship, fellow-suffering, togetherness. After 2003, the old diehard Sox fans said to the new recruits “See how painful it is? Come sit over here by me. I understand.” After 2004, some said “I paid my dues, did you? Do you deserve to celebrate with me?”
I don’t regret winning for a instant. But the lessons of losing are worthwhile.