When something horrible in a large-scale sense happens, people that write about things like sports are fond of saying that it "really puts things in perspective." I've always thought that was annoying, and more than a little bit sad. Bad things happen in everyone's lives; friends and loved ones die, families and relationships fall apart, illnesses and accidents cause financial ruin. Do those things not put things like football in perspective, or remind us that it's not all that important in a relative sense? Do either of those cliches even mean anything? I'm skeptical.
The reality is, big-time professional sports exist because folks like you and me find them entertaining, and the purpose of entertainment is largely to distract us from all of the horrible things that we as humans endure on a daily basis. Sports can be much more than that, but if they didn't serve that function then they wouldn't be around in anything resembling their current form. I watch and obsess over and write about sports for largely the same reasons that I've seen Night of the Hunter nearly 50 times. It's a distraction, and it makes me happy.
There are bad things happening to people all of the time, and to this point life has continued to go on. We mourn where appropriate, we pick ourselves up, and we keep going. I don't care any less about Aston Villa now than I did 48 hours ago. Whenever there's a tragedy, there are those that call for the world to stop, and that's just not an attitude that I've ever understood. Dwelling on things that are out of our control isn't an especially healthy impulse.
But what happened yesterday...man. It's completely taken the breath out of me in every way. I've lived through some very difficult things in terms of both personal pain and shared tragedy, and nothing has ever affected me this way, or really even come close. I can't even really describe the feeling, but I'd imagine it's similar to what's being experienced by a lot of people right now. It's grief, anger, hopelessness and weariness. It's numbing in a way that I've never experienced before.
And so I've been sitting here, trying to write a preview of this game for almost six hours now, and it just isn't happening. Not because I feel as though doing so would be in poor taste, or because I've had some sudden realization that sports just aren't important. I just can't. I'd love to be able to pour myself into something else right now, but it won't happen. It hasn't happened all day. This won't last forever of course, and there's a good chance that my transition back to normal will happen when I'm watching sports.
This afternoon, Aston Villa will go into Anfield and take on Liverpool. It's a very big game for both sides, and the extent of the analysis I am actually capable of providing right now is that I have a good feeling about it. But no matter what happens, I'm just glad that this team from across the globe that I love so much for reasons that I can't even really explain to myself will be there for me, to serve as a reminder that despite the horrible things that happened yesterday that normal still exists. And I am just incredibly grateful for that.