We’ve all dealt with loss, no doubt. Sometimes it seems relatively trivial in the whole scheme of things, but sometimes it feels devastating beyond words, beyond belief, beyond anything imaginable. I’ve lost loved ones, I’ve lost positions, and I’ve lost games. Come to think of it, I’ve experienced the feeling of losing just about everything but weight. However, when I truly spend time thinking of losing, I think of sports.
For those of you who aren’t sports fanatics, and/or don’t really follow women’s soccer, this is a photo of Abby Wambach and Hope Solo, a forward and goalkeeper for the United States. They’re holding some special hardware from the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup (the Super Bowl of soccer where a true world champion is crowned every four years), and yet, it’s quite clear they’re not very happy. They’re holding the Silver and Bronze Ball awards as the second and third most outstanding players of the tournament. In addition to that, Abby got the Bronze Boot (third highest goals of the tournament), Hope got the Golden Glove (best goalkeeper of the tournament), and both of them made the tournament All-Star Team. It sure seems like they should be very happy. I mean, come on, what more did they want?! Oh, right, the tournament team championship is what they really wanted. They lost in the final, after extra time, in the penalty shootout. Yes, it was painful. But, next year is another opportunity …
In just the last year(ish), I’ve watched my Notre Dame football team make the national championship game, and my Denver Broncos football team make the Super Bowl, and then lose. Well, actually, they both got absolutely dominated. I used to be a top notch runner in high school, even got recruited and ran some at the college/university level. I won a lot; however, I also lost – a lot. I’ve been watching the Olympics recently, and there have been some favorites that haven’t just lost the gold medal, they didn’t even receive any medal. You can say it’s just a game, it’s just sports, it’s an accomplishment to even be there (wherever “there” happens to be), and you’re right. Still, losing is truly difficult. And, losing with grace is even more difficult. The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.
Yet, there’s something else that stands out to me when I think of losing. The pain of it falls somewhere in that place between sports and death, and I realize that’s a really big space. I feel so inspired when I make a breakthrough with a student who is having such a hard time with school, with academics, with behavior, with life. And, I feel so deflated when I feel like I have failed a student, when we – as an institution or system or society – fail them, when they seem to have failed themselves. So much is put in to make a positive difference – blood, sweat, and tears is often not even remotely an exaggeration. But, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes it just doesn’t. Sometimes you lose. And then what?
I watch with sadness, even anger, as some people’s reaction is to attempt to dismantle public education. I feel the weight of a student’s glare and cutting words aimed directly at me. I listen to the disparaging remarks from a parent, bent on blaming someone, and that someone is often me. This is the daily price of losing in the educational workplace. It’s draining, debilitating, soul-sucking, thankless, unfair, and pointless. It need not be this way though. Losing with grace isn’t about shutting up, putting your head down, and walking away. Speaking up, speaking out, taking back the conversation, owning your part, seeking to listen, demanding mutual respect, and learning something – That is the new beginning after the pain of loss.
Because losing is never the end of the story.