I don’t usually follow sports. I’ve got only so much time, and there’s just so much out there to keep on top of. But while scanning the headlines a couple days ago, I came across something in the sports section that had me thinking for the past several days.
Eric Cantona, receiving the UEFA President’s award, said something that completely stunned the star-studded audience gathered to celebrate him.
“Eric who?” you might ask. I certainly did. Some quick research told me he’s anything but ordinary! Unfortunately, I don’t have enough space in this blog to tell his incredible story and accomplishments: just look up his name up and you’ll see what I mean. Suffice to say, he’s been at the pinnacle of European football for decades: played for several Premiere League teams and the French national team, capping his career off with Manchester United … won numerous League championships … was named to the English Football Hall of Fame the year that it first opened its doors … was named Overseas Player of the Decade at a Premier League Award ceremony. Then, when the rigor of his sport took him out of the game, he transitioned into cinema and theater. He’s an icon!
And here he stands in front of an intimidating high-society audience, receiving the UEFA President’s Award! As he delivers his acceptance speech … dressed in a crumpled red flannel shirt and flat cap as if to snub the noses of the cultural elites in tuxedos who are gathered to worship him … he hits them with only four sentences, one after the other, that blew them all away into stunned silence.
It’s really worth the one minute of your time to watch his speech … here’s the link … just to see the other people standing on the stage and in the audience, completely silent and captive, not quite sure what’s going on. Hanging from every word that Eric speaks.
In his first sentence, he quotes from King Lear: “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport.” The iconic sportsman is defiantly railing at (or lamenting?) “the gods” who, like devious and ill-mannered adolescents, snuff us out of existence for pure sport and entertainment.
Now that he’s got his audience’s full attention, (and remember, he’s here to talk about his own life-time accomplishments and his having achieved a degree of eternal recognition), he represents all of humanity by swiping back at “the gods”:
“Soon the science will not only be able to slow down the ageing of the cells, soon the science will fix the cells to the state and so we will become eternal.”
So: we humans are on the cusp of clearing our own path to eternal life! We’ll have solved one of the biggest problems that faces all of us as a species. We’ll just slow down aging, “fix the cells … and become eternal.”
I’ve certainly heard statements like this many times. As a scientist myself, I often hear our accomplishments being trumpeted. How the universe is ours for the taking. How we’ll soon be able to fix all disease. Hold back the forces of nature (this was the same week that Trump floated the idea of controlling hurricanes by dropping nuclear bombs on them!?). Colonize other planets (because we’ve spoiled our own). And now, Eric assures us, we’re even going to conquer death itself.
But then he pauses for a moment, looks down a bit, and seems to realize that we’ll probably never be able to achieve what seems to be just at our fingertips:
“Only accidents, crimes, wars, will still kill us; but unfortunately, crimes, wars, will multiply.”
The solution is so close. But we just can’t master the follow-through needed to kick the ball through the goal-posts. Ultimately, we will let the worst of ourselves engineer our own destruction. Every step we take forward inevitably leads to two steps back. We are God and the Devil rolled into one.
We were given a Divine mandate to care for each other and the planet: even non-believers who are particularly ecologically-minded will say things like “that’s why we humans are here … to take care of the planet.” And yet here we are facing all kinds of environmental and climate-related disasters that are ultimately our own doing (and soon to be our undoing). We’ve got wars all over the globe. Heinous crimes and truly disturbing violence fill the headlines of our daily newspapers. Perhaps Eric was particularly aware of this intrinsic human fault because of a less than honorable incident in his own life: when he resolved his difference of opinion with someone by launching himself into the stands with a kung-fu kick to a spectator who was heckling him.
Finally, as if the impact of the picture he just drew hit even Eric himself — a picture of “the gods” capriciously squishing the life out of human bugs, and us defiantly rising up to conquer them, only to let our violent, selfish natures draw us back into the steaming pile on the ground that we came from — Eric concluded with a fourth and dismissive statement:
“I love football. Thank you.”
I’m not sure if all this talk about human-divine conflict and eternal existence exhilarated him like the competition of football once did, or if that talk was just getting too scary, depressing, or metaphysical for his liking and he preferred to retreat into his safe space and the much simpler world of football.
At any rate, he left his audience bewildered for a second or two before they realized they should applaud him. And he left me thinking all through the long holiday weekend:
Who still thinks that we can go it alone in the universe?
Or that we’re fully able to dig ourselves out of the global mess we’ve created: that humanity doesn’t need any kind of re-direction, or even a savior?
And can these questions be scaled down … from talking about us as a species, and down to us as individuals? Haven’t we all left dents, scratches and dirty fingerprints on our own personal spheres of existence, and had our own “kung-fu kick” moments?
And might those questions be the beginning of a much larger and more personal journey of introspection?
Tell me what you think …
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