So Much to Love
I spent part of a cold February morning reading two things: a chapter on the phenomenon of “missing out” from an average book on the philosophy of mid-life and a 2015 article on the marvel that is legendary NFL quarterback Tom Brady. I suppose it’s a fittingly ironic combination. While most of us in our mid-forties are pondering lives left unlived, Brady seems, by all outward appearances at least, to keep irritatingly living his best one.
Even at age forty-three, Brady is near the height of his powers, defying his myriad detractors and the hands of time. This Sunday, Brady will take the field against the Kanas City Chiefs for his tenth Super Bowl seeking his seventh win (this in a league where the average length of a career is less than four years). Whatever you think of the man, his longevity alone is astonishing, to say nothing of his incredible success. No mid-life crisis for Mr. Brady, it seems.
I’ve never really liked Brady, truth be told. I tend to cheer for the underdog (in sport and in life) and Brady’s Patriots have won with such ridiculous consistency over the last few decades that most years you’d take almost anyone over them just to break the monotony. But I’ll probably cheer for his Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. Brady’s not much younger than me, for heaven’s sake! How can you not cheer for the old guy still out there getting it done? He was old enough to vote when Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes was born. When most guys his age are grumbling about their knees after a few hours on the pickle ball court, Brady’s still dodging 250-pound linebackers. Yeah, he’s got his own personal trainer and dietician, yeah, he has the luxury of training in the Bahamas with his supermodel wife and perfect family, yeah, obscene amounts of money evidently afford a few options to forestall the aging process that most of us don’t have. Still. It’s pretty impressive.
It’s not hard to be envious of people like Tom Brady. Most of us know that the right answer on the test is that money can’t buy happiness or meaning but we’d be glad for the opportunity to test that theory for ourselves. And yet, even Brady, with all his incredible success, seems to understand that success has its limits. After he won his third Super Bowl in 2005 (he was barely getting warmed up, in hindsight), he gestured toward this in an interview with Steve Kroft on “60 Minutes”:
Maybe a lot of people would say, “Hey, man, this is what it is, I’ve reached my goal… Me, I think, God, it’s got to be more than this.”
Ah, but what, exactly, might this “more” be? Brady’s religious sensibilities are, like many in the twenty-first century, a bit more difficult to pin down. See, for example, this paragraph from the NYT piece:
He marched me back into the house, through the kitchen and past a shelf that displayed a large glass menorah. “We’re not Jewish,” Brady said when I asked him about this. “But I think we’re into everything. . . . I don’t know what I believe. I think there’s a belief system, I’m just not sure what it is.”
Brady may exist on a different plane when it comes to football, but here he could hardly offer a less unique opinion if he tried. I think we’re into everything… I don’t know… I think there’s a belief system, but I don’t know what it is. A generous interpretation of that word salad would be that Brady is an admirably tolerant agnostic who is genuinely not sure about religion. A less charitable assessment would be that he is just very confused. Saying you’re “into everything” is sort of just a different way of saying that you’re “into nothing” terribly seriously and that you’re fairly ignorant of what you think you’re into. Religions tend to differ on the odd thing, much as this might frustrate our sensibilities. It’s hard to be “into” a contradiction. At least it used to be.
The philosophy of mid-life book that I’m reading is, as I said, fairly average. But there was a passage that caught my eye this morning as I was pondering Tom Brady’s life and wondering if he ever had the familiar mid-40’s experience of reflecting on paths not chosen and “missing out”:
There is consolation in the fact that missing out is an inexorable side effect of the richness of human life. It reflects something wonderful: that there is so much to love and that it is so various that one history could not encompass it all. Even immortality would not suffice.
There is so much to love that one history could not encompass it all. I like that line. It’s a line worth thinking about more deeply. Whatever belief system we end up adopting, whatever we end up deciding we’re “into,” it seems to me that it has to do justice to this most basic of human intuitions and longings. There is much to love and not enough time to love it all. And, of course, it is not just a lack of time that gets in the way of all that could and should be loved. There is evil and injustice and tragedy and sorrow and inequity of every kind. Not everyone gets to choose their path. Not everyone has the luxury of pondering roads untraveled. Far too many people have histories with far too little love, given or received, far too little beauty to appreciate or contribute to.
The Christian conviction is that God is love. God’s very identity is the metaphysical grounding for that which matters most, that which keeps us restless and in pursuit, that which beckons us onward in spite of sufferings endured. And God’s promise is that love will one day fully and finally have its say. Our histories are not enough for all that there is to love. But God’s is. And the Christian hope is that one day our little histories will be folded into God’s. That there will be so much to love and that love will be enough.