Sorrow Is Knowledge

Nov 25, 2017

As I've described many times, I calm myself with a classical music playlist during home games. There's a pressbox announcer describing every play, and that's too distracting for me, so I put some classical in my earbuds. When the game fell apart this afternoon, the selection in my ears: Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony. Which is based on the poem "Manfred" by Lord Byron. Which I researched recently. And the beginning seems fitting right now.

The lamp must be replenish'd, but even then
It will not burn so long as I must watch.
My slumbers--if I slumber--are not sleep,
But a continuance of enduring thought,
Which then I can resist not: in my heart
There is a vigil, and these eyes but close
To look within; and yet I live, and bear
The aspect and the form of breathing men.
But grief should be the instructor of the wise;
Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most
Must mourn the deepest o'er the fatal truth,
The tree of knowledge is not that of life.

Yes, I'm going to use a semi-autobiographical poem by Lord Byron to discuss college football.

At this moment, the evening of November 25, 2017, the thing I spend all of my time thinking about - a healthy, vibrant football program at the University of Illinois - seems impossible. I just watched our 10th consecutive loss, a 42-7 thumping by a tiny school in Evanston which was once the worst college football program in the country. I expected a bad season and got an awful one, and after watching these last few games, I'm not in any way certain that Sisyphus will ever get the boulder up the hill.

Which, of course, makes one question one's priorities. Why this team? Why this program? Why do I spend so much of my free time dreaming of this thing which will likely never happen? Why endure this much grief? I'm about to go into an offseason where I will write at least 75,000 words on this football program and almost no one will read them. Why would they? Who wants to hear about this program? It's so depressing.

And yet, I sit here with this knowledge that this is what I'm supposed to be doing. These players deserve to have their stories told, so I will keep telling them. I got to interview Ahmari Hayes after the game to discuss his realized/unrealized dream, and I got to interview Bobby Walker about the perseverance of a walkon from deep on the bench to starter at blocking tight end, and I got to talk to Dre Brown about 2+ years of knee rehabs leading to a breakout game last week and 184 all-purpose yards today. That answers the "why", I guess.

But what to do with all this pain? Why does it have to be this hard? It always feels like the end of the movie and the jerk got the girl. Why keep going when there's just more sorrow around the bend?

My slumbers - if I slumber - are not sleep but a continuance of enduring thought.

Grief should be the instructor of the wise.

Sorrow is knowledge.

They who know the most must mourn the deepest.

All I can do is continue to go back to thing that might not even be true: endurance will bring perspective. That the struggle will purify. That the enjoyment of our future success will reach a level of euphoria ten times that of others. It often feels like we're asked to endure unimaginable sorrow, and I have to cling to the belief that all of this sorrow has a purpose. That there is a reward for those who endure.

Now, I'm departing pretty hard from Lord Byron here. Our friend Manfred carried unimaginable guilt, and his was not a message of "hold on - good things are coming", it was that the only good to come from his sorrow was knowledge. It's not a feel-good poem.

But I'm clinging to the concept anyway. There has to be something that comes from all this pain. There has to be some benefit. Having our emotions trashed on Saturday after Saturday has to be part of some purification process. This can't all just be for naught.

Because next year, I'll be right back here. You can't make me quit. If this is all some big test, I'm determined to pass. Even if it's 2039 before there's any type of payoff, I'm determined to endure. Many of you will be right here alongside.

Continuance of enduring thought? Before I die, I'll see this program on solid ground. The pain of the last 25 years will mean something. When we reach the mountaintop, our souls will be pure.

In my heart there is a vigil.


HiggsBoson on November 25 @ 09:55 PM CST

There's too much tv money for Illinois to give up football, but we could just give up any expectation of having a winning program like the university administration does. Bring back the Chief and give fans something to watch. That works even when the team is bad.

1970 John on November 26 @ 01:36 PM CST

Good things are happening there. You won't see the Chief Illiniwek as we have known him. But good and exciting things are coming, our heritage will be preserved, and the Curse of the Chief will be lifted.

illiniranger on November 25 @ 09:56 PM CST

We’re in uncharted waters with all the FR. Maybe it works out in 2-3 years, maybe not. We need to stack recruiting classes and show some life on offense.

uilaw71 on November 26 @ 07:19 AM CST

Michigan 2019. Keep the faith, Robert.

MoCoMdIllini on November 26 @ 08:18 AM CST

Your statement "a tiny school in Evanston which was once the worst college football program in the country" shows that it CAN be done, Robert.

I grew up listening to Wisconsin football because my folks both went there. They were a putrid bunch, too, in the 70s and early 80s. And look at them now!

Gary48 on November 26 @ 09:26 PM CST

Let me echo most of the above. Hang in there Robert. I believe we’ll begin to see the turn around next year. Meanwhile, keep writing.

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