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About Last Night: Meditation at T-Mobile Park

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On losses old and new, grief as a not-process, and blackberries

Los Angeles Angels v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

“All of the new thinking is about loss,” begins Robert Hass’s poem “Meditation at Lagunitas.”

“In this way, it resembles the old thinking.”

Last night, the Mariners gave us a new way to think about loss, that was also the old way. They lost to an inferior opponent behind stellar pitching and punchless offense, a loss they’ve re-enacted many times this season, although this time they did it in front of a historically large crowd, with hopes ratcheted up to the retractable roof of the park glowering above. We’ve seen this kind of loss so many times this season, the Mariners letting a winnable game slip beyond their grasp, but never has it stung so much, because never has it meant so much. “Mariners find new way to break your heart” has been a headline on LL so many times this season it’s a running joke, but it doesn’t make this feeling hurt any less. There’s no tolerance that gets built up for heartbreak.

Walking home down the darkened, empty streets, I thought about how soon, again, there would be trick-or-treaters merrily trampling these same leaf-stamped sidewalks; how that would be followed by banking the fires low for another winter, another holiday season, another lacuna for me between where baseball used to be and would be again.

And then it occurred to me that I’ve had all these thoughts and feelings before, many times, have written these same sorts of stories around this time every year. Never with this much on the line, never this much loss; but a story I’ve tried to find different ways to tell, different reassurances to give, attempting to blur the lines of disappointment into something less jagged, softer and easier to swallow. When Jarred came up in the ninth with the game on the line I was already plotting out how to frame this disappointment and write about it. This will be a matchup we see again, I said confidently to staff writers Grant and Addie, who I was standing with at the game, when the Angels and Mariners are battling to win the division; Iglesias or whoever the Angels pay to close games for them vs. a pissed-off Jarred Kelenic with a long memory. Always trying to head sadness off at the pass and wrangle it into something useful, something meaningful.

I’ve done this for myself, but also for you, reader: putting words between myself and the bad feelings helps distance them from me so I can process them; shaping them into a narrative makes it feel like the disappointment means something, that another year of following this team to see them fall short eventually isn’t a time-sucking, soul-sucking pursuit but something that will be rewarded eventually, or maybe is its own reward. Isn’t disappointment supposed to be character-building? At this point Mariners fans could construct an entire new civilization out of all the character we’ve built.

But in reflecting on Hass’s poem, maybe that’s the wrong instinct. Hass’s poem considers the gap in language between the signifier and the signified, and the unsolvable loneliness of the lacuna in between. He uses the example of the word blackberry, a “bramble” of a word that despite its almost onomatopoetic resemblance to the thing it signifies, still cannot ever approach the thing itself. The two will always be divided; “a word is elegy to what it signifies.” What can the word “loss”—or writing about it—really tell us about the thing itself?

...After a while I understood that,
talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,
pine, hair, woman, you and I.

Maybe dissolving the sadness and trying to make it over into something shiny and new is the wrong instinct. There will never be a way to capture exactly what it was like to feel the hopeful enthusiasm of a sold-out crowd gradually descend into disappointment, no way to accurately describe the feeling in my brambly heart as I walked out of the ballpark, and any attempt to do so just puts more distance between me and the thing itself. Americans are obsessed with productivity, so much so that we talk about the process of grieving, like grief is a series of activities on the saddest cruise line. Maybe it’s better to just sit in the sadness and feel all the feelings, to not try to make it all mean something that it probably doesn’t anyway.

The Mariners still have two games left to play, and the slimmest of hopes. Maybe they’ll shock the world and this loss will become something else again, part of the narrative rather than the terminus. If it does, or if it doesn’t, I promise to attempt to curb my impulse to be the cruise director of the SS Sadness. Between now and game time, though, if you need me, I’ll just be sitting here, trying to close the distance between these two kinds of loss, between the bramble of a blackberry bush in my mind and the blackberry itself, fat and hopeful, sitting in my palm.