Overcoming Sins of the Past

Anyone who meets me more than once knows I am a rabid Liverpool fan. Even if they do not quite understand what that means. I live in America so most of my cohorts have no idea what support for a team looks like in Europe. We do get our fanatical fans in our sports. It’s not the same.

To be clear, I am a Liverpool supporter. I am going to talk about Leeds United. Then I probably won’t do it again. Until Liverpool next plays them. Unless they beat Liverpool. Then I will kick on as if the game never happened.

As Jurgen Klopp says “football is the most important of the least important things.”

I love that. For me, the beautiful game gives me hope, pulls joy from despair, and shows a path for life that I have never been able to put words to. It is no more and much more than a bunch of players kicking a ball about, everything and nothing at all at the same time. It shows what is possible when we can work together for a common goal. Even if the goal seems unlikely, even after doing a lot of things wrong.

In Liverpool’s first game of the 2020-2021 Premier League season, they faced Leeds United, a newly promoted team from the Champions League. Ultimately, Liverpool won 4-3 in a scrappy match riddled with Liverpool errors and saved by a Mo Salah hat trick, made possible by two Leeds penalties. 

Much was made of Leeds United being promoted back into the Premier League after a 16-year absence. They had once been great. They had once won the league. The press is enamored of the tale, the great vanquished team coming back at last. Overcoming the sins of the past.

Back when I first fell in love with Liverpool in the mid 1980s, I don’t remember Leeds United at all. I do remember them in the late nineties and early 2000s, a team that seemed to be burdened with scandal after scandal.

I don’t remember details and timing, just the shadows of events. Two Leeds players were charged with assault of an Asian student, causing life-threatening injuries to him. The Leeds United management borrowed a large sum of money against the hope that he could pay it back with proceeds from European nights in Champions League football only not to qualify for Europe. This brought financial ruin to the club. On a night in Istanbul, two of their supporters were stabbed to death in a riot. Relegation, despite a streak of success, seemed inevitable. How could they overcome all that?

I was more worried about how Liverpool would overcome their being “knocked off their perch” by the damnable Manchester United under Sir Alec Ferguson. Liverpool had their own demons to overcome. The Hillsborough disaster of 1989 weighted heavy on the team. Some went so far as to blame us supporters for what could not have been our fault. It was rough and heartbreaking. It hurt the club. Our mentality no doubt suffered for the loss of lives on that horrific day.

Liverpool went through their own penance through a series of mismanagement and poor decisions. Thirty years. It took us thirty years to win the league again after being legendary for decades. So Leeds down in the lower leagues was not even on my radar. I did not think they could overcome the sins of their past. I was not certain Liverpool could either, but I never worried they would be relegated. I had hopes that Everton might be…ok, ok, I digress.

Sixteen years in the lower leagues and here Leeds United are again. Giving Liverpool, the reigning champions, a proper match. We all have our sins of the past to overcome. Sometimes it takes a few hours to put your ship right. Sometimes it takes sixteen years. Or thirty years. Or a life time.

While I have never assaulted anyone contrary to reputation or been caught in a riot or crushed in a stampede, I have bet financial stability against future success and lost. I have let my demons off their leash and nearly been devoured for letting them lash out at me. I have hurt others by my own inaction or caught in my own pain.

My body and soul have suffered for making poor decisions that I knew were risky or plain stupid, decisions made in despair. I fell into the trap of blaming a cruel world and my mental illness for my shortcomings. This never works. I have power over my own life .

No matter our circumstances, no matter what others would have us believe, we all have power over our own lives. And we can all find absolution and strive toward our best selves. Truth be told, most of us will never get there. But the point is not the ends but the journey to get there. The journey is a beautiful game. A dance that never ends.

There is power in acknowledging that, perhaps, we have not always done what is right for ourselves or others. And forgive ourselves. And each other. Nothing is more powerful than true forgiveness. It is an easy thing to write. A terribly difficult thing to do.

Strength, mercy, kindness, and humility are essential elements of renewal and always the hardest to bring out of ourselves. Invisible demons never quit their assault on us, lying and tearing us down. It takes hard work to beat the world back and push yourself toward your potential. Without exception, all individuals have a gift to bring to this life, a light in the darkness, or at least, to discover what hides in the darkness and create from it. Kick on.  

And support Liverpool so that you will never walk alone in the wicked storms of this life.

You Will Never Walk Alone

I am still processing that something amazing has finally happened amid all the darkness. Liverpool FC are Premier League Champions. It is their first time winning the English league in thirty years, first time in the Premier League era.

Let me explain. I left the UK in 1987. Liverpool were always the top of the league. I would go through Liverpool to take ship to Ireland to visit my cousins. I was meant to be either Man United or a Chelsea supporter. Long story that. But first time I heard the voices of Liverpool supporters lifted up together singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, I had to be part of that.

It has been a long, dreary three decades. We had close moments in those years, but the moment Jurgen Klopp appeared, I knew something special was happening. That man will surpass old Bill Shankly in his influence.

I had been so depressed with all the ugliness in the world these days. Thursday was a nice bit of light. I know most won’t understand. There’s just something so beautiful in watching a group of players from every possible background working together at a common goal and playing with such passion and joy. And clearly playing for us fans, for the people of Liverpool, to give them that spark, that hope in all this darkness. You will never walk alone.

2019 And the Pig Pug Pagan

5BA59A78-B6B3-4C46-BEE0-B510F72BD4A2It’s been a long, dark year. But I see a brand new light beckoning at the end of long tunnel full of monsters and fears.  Without the valiant efforts of my pug, I might have fallen to despair. My daughter started calling Frankie my Pig Pug Pagan for reasons I can’t understand. But she became the guardian of my life and soul more so this year than in her first three years at my side.

Life threw a few curve balls, opened some doors, slammed others shut, and in all the pain and confusion, my writing improved. I look forward to querying my book in the New Year.

Mothers and Daughters

A644879B-C9C9-4F11-BF3F-3FDE5D82F44DWow, this is one of the most complex relationships, is it not, ladies? I have a difficult relationship with my own mother and a very close relationship with my daughter. All three of us share a challenging trait. We all suffer from severe depression. All of us are survivors of various traumas.  My daughter and I have made great strides in conquering our demons, but both of us will likely be in some kind of therapy for the rest of our lives.

All The Things We Don’t Speak About

While my daughter drives toward a bright future in New York to start 2020, my mother remains in the hospital six weeks after a serious suicide attempt. No one calls it that, but it is what it is. We are not supposed to speak about these things, are we?

My mother faces multiple physical battles and one very large mental one. The doctors had not expected her to survive the complicated surgery in her weakened state. She did. She can’t walk and her heart is badly damaged, making her physical therapy challenging.  There is no dignity in a rotted body, and trying to recover from such self-inflicted harm. It’s the fear of jumping in case you survive that dissuades me in my darkest moments. I can’t quite see the darkness that caused my mom to let go and step off the ledge.

And she is determined to return home, away from the constant vigilance of the nurses and doctors who care for her now. Not to live but to die. Nothing is as awful as trying to save someone from themselves.

For years, my mother self-medicated, drowning out the demons of her own mind in bottles of gin and vodka. She still sees mental illness as shameful and so refuses to engage in any long term therapy. Years ago, after my daughter had been in therapy for six months or so, my mother asked how long I intended to let my teenage daughter use a therapist as a “crutch”. It made me so sad.

My mother is wrong. Seeing a therapist, seeking out help with a group like AA, joining an online group to talk about issues, taking medication to stem the worst of the despair, is not wrong and it is not a crutch. It is necessary.  And it is nothing to be ashamed of. And for many of us, it is the only way for us to rejoin the dance of life again.

Clinical depression is a monster without a cure. It must be met and dealt with or when life delivers one of its hard knocks (a guarantee – life is hard, sometimes for no reason at all), the monster will devour its host. I wish my mother would find the light before her last breath in this life.

On Christmas Day when we visited, she seemed to be getting so much better. She was sober for the first time I could remember in years, and she seemed determined to return to life. But three days later, she was slipping again. I hope 2020 will see an end to her pain, one way or another. She won’t have much life left, no matter what the doctors do, but I wish she could see the end of her days in the light, and not give over to the horrors of her own mind.

My daughter and I got a lot of help from the book, Lost Connections by Johann Hari last year. It may not be “the answer”, but it does help one feel less lost, and not alone.

In a sick world, it is almost impossible to be fully sane. Reach out for help. Yes, there will always pain in life, but there is joy.  And everyone deserves redemption, happiness, and purpose.

The Beautiful Game

img_0070My demons did a fair bit of throwing themselves against me and pitching fits, trying to tell me that I didn’t matter, that the world would be better without me. I hit back and scattered them to the chaos courtesy of Liverpool FC.

Loving to pull out victories in the last seconds of the game, they kind of mimic my life. Where I think I am defeated, in the last moment, I take another shot on gaol. Yes, a Premier League football team represents the endless light in my darkness.  They end 2019 on a long, freaking winning streak, adding three new trophies to their tally, and improve the most beautiful game there has ever been with such creativity and incredible collaboration. This is one of my many joys.

ChampionsOfEuropeI still watch the magical highlights of the game at Anfield against Barca where Liverpool recovered from a 3-0 loss to advance to the final of Champions League (which they won) with a 4-0 victory.  The crowd singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” seers my soul with such light. It’s just a game, some say, but for Liverpool, it is more.

For me, this night, New Year’s Eve is not the end of the year. It’s just a date on the calendar. My year begins in August with the beginning of the new Liverpool Premier League season, and ends the night before their first game of the next season. So while others make their new year’s resolution, I am still on my journey of the year.

 

Liverpool vs Leicester City

Liverpool 2  Leicester City 1

Milner_LiverpoolThe drama queens were at it again for the second time this week. My heart is barely beating. It went down to the whistle as Liverpool pounded out a last second penalty kick to continue their record-breaking winning streak.

Echoes of our mid-week Champions League win against Salzburg pervaded the pitch. Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool’s former manager, brought a hungry and talented Leicester team to Anfield. They made a tired Liverpool work for every inch.  They even carried it a bridge too far with a penalty on Mo Salah that sent him off injured. Quite worrying. Thank heavens for the International break. I need a rest. I think we all do.

The ever-reliable, Mane, put us up by one in first half. Late in the game, Leicester drew level and I thought, well, that’s that. Then a clumsy challenge on Mane inside the box in the 94th minute gave us a free kick. Milner cleaned up and Liverpool continue their unbelievable winning streak. Anfield remains an impenetrable fortress.

Liverpool vs Red Bull Salzburg

Liverpool 4.  Red Bull Salzburg 3

 

European nights returned to Anfield. And, of course, our Liverpool boys were complete drama queens about the whole thing.   I am listening at work, getting all happy with a three goal lead. I am all pumped for a blow out.

But no, wait, that is not what happened. The young Salzburg team comes back in spectacular fashion, getting even at 3-3 twenty minutes into the second half. And the Egyptian king, Mo Salah, comes through and saves the day. We scrape by instead of what we should have done – you know, beat them 7-0.

My heart is hurting. I came home and watched the highlights. I see on that last goal Salzburg scored, we left a man in the box totally unmarked. Not like our boys. I admit I was a little peeved at how much space Salzburg had to work in, but I should not have been. The lads always find a way. Liverpool got the win.

I hope Liverpool train hard and steel themselves for this weekend. Brendan Rogers returns to Anfield with third place Leicester, and he will have no mercy for his former team.  We will need more than luck and grit to beat this team. If we don’t close down our lines hard, Liverpool will drop points on our sacred ground.  So on to the next. We can do it.