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“It is easy when you are beaten, he thought. I never knew how easy it was. And what beat you, he thought.”

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea.


 

These 22 words are found at the bottom of page 113 of a 124-page novella, The Old Man and The Sea, written by Ernest Hemingway. The subject matter was first published in Esquire magazine in 1931. Twenty years later it was to be part of a collection of short stories with the title “Santiago” but first it was published in one installment in Life magazine. Shortly after, it was published as a book that was cited specifically when the Nobel prize for literature was awarded to Hemingway in 1954.

For me, these words summarize the entire book. An equally attentive reader might choose something else or nothing at all. This was my second reading and at my first reading forty plus years ago this revelation didn’t happen.

Hemingway, through the old fisherman, is saying that when you are beaten despite knowing you have done everything in your power to avoid defeat it is not hard to accept. It can be easy! You did your best, and it was not enough. When it comes to luck that has more to do with the result and not the process, we don’t like results we are forced to accept from the caprice of luck, but we know we have done our best.

In an individual sporting event, the fans can be disappointed, even distraught, at the outcome, but the person who lost despite their best effort may be disappointed but satisfied, or even pleased, with their effort. In contrast, in team sports the last words “and what beat you he thought?” beg the question “Did I beat myself?”. This can happen when a member of a team believes he/she did not and is crestfallen in defeat.

The answer to the question “And what beat you?” posed by the old fisherman who single-handedly caught a 1,500-pound marlin two feet longer than his boat was “Sharks beat me.” I did all that I could, but I lost.

In sports, Armando Galarraga, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, retired 26 straight batters and on the 27th a mistake by the first base umpire who called a runner safe when he was clearly out robbed the pitcher of posting only the 24th perfect game out of nearly 220,000 in the history of the major leagues! The umpire was in tears, but the player accepted what had to be considered bad luck. He was deprived his place in history. Beaten in his quest for a perfect game, but he had done his best.

In a demonstration of sportsmanship and making the best out of a bad situation Galarraga and the umpire Jim Joyce collaborated on a book, Nobody’s Perfect: Two Men, One Call and a Game for Baseball History. A true sign of accepting life!

 

By GH

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