So here we are.
There is nothing in the world like watching somebody win. I had dinner last night with a friend and his two friends, neither of whom I had met before. In the middle of dinner, one of the friends suddenly pushed his chair back and hollered in victory: he had just gotten a big theatre job. I had only met the guy an hour earlier, but I was so thrilled by his news and his win that I embraced him.
We live in a country that loves to win. Even when we’re not winning, we pretend that we are. We chant “We’re Number One,” not always because some official ranking has placed us in the top slot, and also because no one wants to chant “We’re Number Six.” Even if it’s six out of a million, which is still undoubtedly impressive. In other words, silver medals are pretty, and hey, good for you, but... hmmm.
Did I say that we live in a country that loves to win? How silly of me. That would imply that the rest of the world is content with losing. All evidence to the contrary. I should say that we live in a universe that loves to win. Do we really think that as politicians stump and stomp and shout that “we live in the greatest country/city/borough/district in the world,” other people are not saying the exact same thing everywhere else in the solar system?
People often forget, while on their dreamy clouds of winning, that a win cannot exist without someone else losing... and in most cases, there are far more losers than winners. Or, should I say, in this day and age of the ubiquitous Participation Trophy, “non-winners.” Grr. I always hated being in a competition where, before the winners were announced, there was this moment of ebullient buck-up crap where an authority figure at the podium handing out the hardware would chirp, “and remember, no matter what, you’re all winners!” No, lady, clearly we’re not. Unless we won.
I guess it’s because somewhere along the line we associated losing a race or a contest or a job with losing in life. Only occasionally do we have the sort of perspective where we can say, wow... look at this World Series that’s going into extra innings in Game 7, or this Super Bowl that’s a nail-biter right down to the wire. Both of these teams are incredible, and powerful, and deserving. By definition only one of them can win... but there are times when you can hardly call the losing team losers. There needs to be a word for that, for the person or persons who lost something that, by sheer nature of them even being qualified to lose it, makes them incapable of being called a loser. Like being on the short list for the Nobel Prize, but not getting the call.
Most of us probably lose more than we win. I’m basing that solely on percentages. But there are some haloed people out there who are blessed with that winning streak, so much so that they take winning for granted. The golden children, I call them. I spot them on the street like punch-buggies. They carry their effortless triumphs daily, these recipients of so many pats on the head. The ones whose hearts are rarely broken.
Or aren’t they? This past Friday night, I saw the new Broadway production of LOMBARDI. (Run, do not walk, to see what is not only an incredible acting company led by Dan Lauria and Judith Light, but also a very, very good play.) At its core, the play addresses what it means and what it takes to win, and how the sweetness of victory never lingers long on the tongue. Dan Lauria’s mercurial Vince Lombardi literally explodes with joy on a win... only to be haunted by the next impending game just hours later. The thrill of a championship comes with new, higher expectations for the next season. It’s a vicious cycle that can and does consume a soul from the inside out.
Because the dirty little secret is that winning isn’t enough. You have to keep winning. Memories are short. Hearts are insatiable. We don’t just live in the now. We live in the next.
The other dirty little secret is that winning comes with baggage.
Even that friend of a friend last night, flushed with excitement over his job offer, let life deflate a little of his glee, realizing he only had two weeks get everything in order so he could go out on this tour... and precious little time to learn the part.
Winning comes with as much reality as losing, maybe more. They can come to your door with the giant check and balloons, but now you’re going to have to deal with that ne’er-do-well cousin of yours who’s gonna come out of the woodwork for a handout. That job of a lifetime can take you away from your loved ones. You can win a trophy, but you not only have to live up to it, you have to dust it, too.
And yeah, I think the winners can cry me a river. But on the other hand, I have fewer things to dust.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.