It’s been said over and again: this summer has been a sad and devastating one for the broader hockey community. Three well-known players have died suddenly recently, and now the crash of a Russian plane has taken the lives of many more.
Important questions are already being asked about the safety of the aircraft, but that of course offers precious little comfort to those loved ones left behind. Such air disasters are, thankfully, relatively infrequent, so when they do occur, they quite properly draw our attention. Our human response is one of grief, sadness and shock.
Some have quite correctly reminded us that, as awful as this event is to those in the hockey world, tragic events occur daily, all over the world. It need not be on the scale of 9/11 for it to “matter”. Countless individuals—those in the public eye and many more who lead more private lives but no less important—die every day. Some go suddenly, others after fighting a long battle with illness.
What we have all learned in life is that death excludes no one. In this instance the hockey community is touched because it is their “own” who are lost. But the reverberations are always felt by so many, regardless of the background or profile of those who lost their life. Family, friends, co-workers, colleagues are touched and pause to ask questions, reflect—and grieve.
Yes, it is a tragedy on a broad scale. But too, everyone lost was a unique individual, and leaves behind a very personal trail of lifelong memories that touched so many others.
And now, there is sadness.
Some of those who died in this week’s crash in Russia are former Maple Leaf players. They were, and always will be, part of the Maple Leaf family. They will -and should- be remembered accordingly, with great respect.
But that is “important” only in a very narrow sense. Whether those who died had been “Leafs”, professional athletes or from any other background or walk of life, the broader human family is always touched. As with 9/11, whether we individually and personally were directly affected, virtually everyone was affected in some way—and remains so, to this day.
Conflict, illness, tragedy—whether on a global or very personal level, most of us struggle with this life reality. For some, a sense of spiritually, or their religious faith, provides, if not answers, at least a degree of stability, a sense of hope, in an often fragile and confusing world.
Surely this is one of the reasons that many of us have a child-like love of sport. While sport, too, is sometimes touched by conflict and tragedy, it also provides an oasis that takes us away from the day-to-day stresses and realities that can create so much anxiety.
Does it really matter if the Leafs win or lose a game? Of course not. It doesn’t really impact our lives in any truly meaningful way. But “fans” can step away from other realities to enjoy the good in sport, to follow a certain “favorite” player, to root for something that, when things go well, gives one’s life a little boost, a bit of joy.
When our team struggles, we can debate, complain, call for change. We can let loose. We may feel let down, but we “survive” because there is always another day. Another game. Another season. Another new player to cheer for.
Maybe it's about something to hope for, to look forward to, a "community" to belong to, when maybe other parts of our lives leave us feeling a bit hopeless from time to time.
Most of us have experienced tragedies, including the sudden loss of someone close to us. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s awful. But we try to cope, and endure.
In broader terms, in life, the world loses good people every day. This week’s sad events in Russia are yet another example. None of us knows how long we will be here—with and around those we care most for and about.
Not that we should need the reminder, but how often do we tell ourselves: make sure we tell those we care about, that we love, that we in fact do love them.
I don’t know what too often is, but if it’s not often enough, today is a good day to do so.