I remember talking to a dying man whose body was riddled with cancer and regret. He tried to focus on the positive aspects of life, the warm memories of younger years and the adventures and splendors of youth. Over the last weeks of his life, we’d discuss the fairness of fate—at least through the lens of a terminal illness and the inevitable robbery it would commit by taking a life without permission and with little warning.

In the remaining weeks of his life, we went on drives in his truck. I drove him around with the windows down to let the July warmth circulate the cab — the rush of the summer had the power to make an ailing man smile. The radio was switched off so we could talk about everything and then nothing for long stretches. Some conversations started with a unique energy, the kind an overzealous runner starts a foot race with before succumbing to the horde hot on his tail that eventually passes him up leaving the runner alone with his thoughts and fleeting energy reserves. Some of these conversations weren’t conversations at all. They were just utterances and then long stretches of silence while the man slept in the sunshine hitting the passenger seat while the wind caressed his ailing body and anguished soul.

After a few weeks with his condition rapidly deteriorating and his mind wavering between the brutal reality of the hand he was dealt by the hardest of dealers and the blunt force fatigue that rendered him listless, I finally heard the words everyone else had proclaimed and that he finally uttered: “It’s not fair. It’s not supposed to be this way.”

I said nothing. I thought about everything. How is it supposed to go then? I thought.

Everyone thinks they’re going to die on their shield. They think they’ll go out in a blaze of glory or at the very least, in the comfort of their own constructed world in a warm bed surrounded by family and friends. Some of these people may even think they’ll have the opportunity to replay the game film of their lives, enjoying each spectacular highlight reel that make up the years and eras of life well-lived.

And least that’s the dream—the ideal way to consider things and perceive a heavy subject the most positive way possible. As the weeks wore on and he finally closed his eyes for the last time I felt a sense of sadness and relief for him because he moved beyond accepting that he was going to die soon. It was the regret of things left undone and people left unloved. That hurt him. That pain was real.

So, what does this mean to people who came here to read about soccer or sport in general?

It means that reality is a hard teacher — perhaps the hardest of them all. Players often think they’re going to have this moment of extreme grandeur in the biggest game of their lives and that their final kick of the ball will be sending that ball into the top corner as the final whistle signals the end of the match of all matches. The reality is so much different in that we don’t know when or what that final kick will look or feel like. It could happen in a state title match under the stadium lights with the whole community looking on…it could come in the pouring rain of a collegiate contest with the real world beckoning on the other side of that final whistle. For most of us, it’ll come in the dimming lights of an old indoor facility or on a frosty pockmarked Sunday league pitch.

If I’ve learned anything as a player, coach, parent, and author it’s that nothing is ever as it seems. And that’s OK because not everything has to be extraordinary. I think we’ve forgotten how to just let things happen.

In the last few years, I’ve taken some time away from coaching and writing to raise my sons and devote time to family and my corporate career. People asked me why I stopped writing and I didn’t have answers because the reality was I never stopped writing…I just stopped sharing what I was writing mainly out of exhaustion and intentionality.

Perhaps it’s just a perpetual case of writer’s block. But I think it’s more than that — it’s the expectation that cripples progress. The expectation that every piece of writing had to be epic and better than the last. The expectation that those who enjoy reading my work needed those words to move mountains for them. That’s a real monster to allow license to metastasize in your moral fabric — and it kills slowly by paralyzing potential and production.

But in that time, I published my first book, found out my wife and I will be welcoming another boy into our lives any day now, and dramatically advanced my corporate career. And I learned the lesson we all learn — radical changes often happen without fanfare or warning. You just wake up one day and the world has evolved, you have changed, that which was so important in previous seasons of life holds a new meaning now.

I often think back to the lessons I learned as a player and I am continually astounded at how many are applicable to life away from the playing field. And that’s the beautiful thing about having the courage and mental endurance to explore your memories — you extract meaning from seemingly unimportant events in the moment.

So here’s my reintroduction to writing regularly. Much of what I’ve written about in the past will still be the cornerstone and bedrock of my content. Some pieces will be more like this — all over the place but universally understood and relatable. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. I’ll just write more and share it with the world because these days words matter more than ever.

Far too often we tend to think life has grand plans in store for us, which I believe to be partly true. The real god power lies within us — the power to destroy or to create greatness. Choose wisely.

Published by Jon Townsend

Jon is a long-serving writer for These Football Times and the Original Coach and is the author of the upcoming book "It's Just a Ball: Exploring the Complexities of a Simple Game". Jon is a supporter of Liverpool Football Club and AFC Ajax. Based in the U.S., Jon is involved in promoting grassroots football and specializes in player development writing and coaching. He is the co-founder of Year Zero Soccer, a non-profit grassroots football organization that is partnered with TFT. His work has been featured on the Guardian Sport Network, Inside Soccer, NSCAA Soccer Journal, White Lines Magazine, and Spartan Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @jon_townsend3

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1 Comment

  1. Always enjoy readying you – you offer a moment to reflect about ourselves and what destiny may bring for us. No guarantees no matter how hard you try. Relating to this story is easy – you brought me in to make me think – thanks for that.

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