I have never been much of a soccer fan, but during this World Cup season I have found myself magnetically drawn to the games, watching more soccer these last few weeks than I have in my entire life. I'm sure that my daughter having just returned from a six-month study abroad in Brazil has surely contributed to my newfound interest in the sport. While the games themselves are exciting, I find myself playing over in my mind the poignant and heart breaking disappointments that have come for teams and players along the way. The images of grown men with anguished faces, tears streaming down their cheeks have stayed with me. First it was the devastated faces of the Mexican team as their sure win was stolen from them in the last few minutes of play. Then there was the heartbroken face of Columbian player James Rodriguez after his team's loss to Brazil. Rodriguez now pales in comparison to the image of Brazilian defender David Luiz sobbing into the ground after the team's humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany.
Disappointments and losses. We certainly all experience them, and they are indeed a part of the human condition. Whether it is a sports match that some consider a national embarrassment, or a financial loss not unlike the ones so many American families have endured in the recent economic downturn, or the disappointment of a student who is denied admission to their top choice school or who fails a class --or worse, is dismissed from a program. The disappointment of being passed over for a promotion, the heartbreak of a failed relationship, or more excruciating still, the anguish of learning that treatment has failed and a loved one is on hospice the opportunities for disappointment are many in our everyday lives.
As I reflect on the disappointments in my own life, some from long ago and others more recent, there is a recurring theme. There is that initial sense of being bulldozed, and the feelings of disbelief and shock (is this for real). For many there is a flood of emotions, and the endless self-talk of if only I had done this or that or said this or that.(And for me, at least, usually another flash flood of emotions!) A friend of mine used to call these moments character building experiences. I have often wondered if my character really needed that much building. As the days and weeks go by, acceptance and reality set in. Sometimes I have found meaning in the experience, and felt that it really was meant to be. But sometimes, for all of us, there is the raw realization that it just really hurts; coming face to face with our own vulnerability is humbling. With the passing of time the acuteness subsides, but there is a tenderness that always remains. Mercifully, the people that love me usually remind me that I am not defined by my disappointments or losses. It happened, but it is not who I am.
With the survival of disappointment comes the capacity to engage on a more humble, human level with your neighbor, who may be struggling with his or her own difficult moment. A disappointment fully digested equips us to love others and perhaps ourselves -- more boldly.