the art of losing


Last Thursday night Ginger and I drove up the Hartford to meet our friend Christy and watch Baylor play UConn in basketball. The Huskies, perhaps the most famous women’s basketball program in the country, had won ninety-eight home games in a row. The Bears broke their streak, and didn’t wait until the final shot to do it. UConn scored less than ten points in the final quarter. With a minute and a half left to go, Baylor was up by twelve and the defeat was obvious. That was also when a large number of the UConn fans stood up, put on their coats, and headed for the exits. I was shocked.

I turned to Ginger and said, “These folks need help learning how to lose.”

Losing often carries a sense of shame. Even though the score indicated that Baylor won the game, the New York Times saw fit to describe it this way; “UConn Loses to Baylor, and Home Winning Streak Ends at 98,” putting the blame on the Huskies, as though it was their fault. When it comes to sports, we are told, over and over, that losing is un-American ; after all, we’re Number One, as we seem to shout every chance we get (which is one of the many problems with sports as life metaphors).

One of my dad’s favorite Peanuts cartoons showed Charlie Brown coming off the pitcher’s mound after a huge loss and asking, “How can we lose when we are so sincere?’

Many years ago, Ginger and I were at a Red Sox game late in the season–before they broke the Curse of the Bambino and win their first World Series in eighth-six years. We knew how to be losers.

If the Sox has won the game, we had a chance to make the playoffs. If we lost, the season would end a few days later. In the top the eighth inning, the wheels came off and, like the UConn fans, some of the fans got up to leave and a woman behind us stood up and began to shout in a thick Boston accent, “You f—in’ fair-weather fans. Where are you going? I love my Boston F—ing Red Sox! It could be worse; we could be the Cleveland F—ing Indians!”

I thought about that woman as I watched the aisles fill up in the arena while the women were still playing, though I didn’t feel compelled to make a similar speech. Besides teaching me that every major league team had the same middle name, she reminded me of how to lose, or perhaps it’s better to say how to stay with those I care about when they are losing.

I just wished the grace for them (and me) to remember that it matters whether or not we stay when those we love are losing.

Losing doesn’t mean we didn’t try hard enough, or that we did something wrong. Or, sometimes, maybe it does. The root of the word means “to divide or cut apart.” That’s what I watched happen at the game. All those united in winning were divided in defeat and took to the exits. How could they remain together if they lost?

That’s what it means to be together. We stay when it hurts, w hen it doesn’t go the way we imagined it would go.

If we head for the exits every time we lose, it won’t be long before we are the only ones left. And I don’t necessarily mean to stay so we can hear the “We’ll get them next time” speech. The sports metaphor falls apart right here. Losing is, for most of us, not the exception. It is not necessarily the last word, but the true hope we find doesn’t show up the next time we win; it comes alive when we stay even when all feels lost. “Lose your life to find it,” Jesus said. I don’t recall any of his words glorifying what it feels like to win, though winning feels good, I’ll admit. But if we believe that we are best defined when we win, we are missing a crucial part of what it means to be human.

“They’ve got a name for the winners in the world,” sang Steely Dan, “but I want a name when I lose.”

Whatever the circumstance, whatever the score, let’s choose to stay to the end. Stay and call each other by name. I know you. I love you. I’m not going anywhere.



  1. This post makes me think about the day I started staying at the movies until all the credits were done. I was in college and a high school friend had moved to LA to be an actor and another friend was in post production editing. I thought that maybe one day I would see my friends’ name up there on the big screen if I just waded through all those groupings of names!! I never did serendipitously run across the names of my friends (one time I was told what to watch for a documentary on the History Channel to see my post production friend’s name) but I learned so much about the “making” of each movie I attended as I looked behind “the green curtain”. My friends know that if they go to the movies with me, they will need to wait for me until the last credit rolls across the screen and that I will talk about what was in those credits.

    Some of the fantasy worlds which are so artistically created by the movie makers turn out to be just one of the “out in the middle of nowhere” places which I happened to know (because that is what and where I am drawn to). It makes me think about my view of those places…about seeing beauty and possibility instead of isolation and nothingness. Maybe it was my brain that was barren, barren of the ability to imagine a new kind of beauty, a full potential of greatness.

    Fortunately I was in college when this revelation came to me, so I have been able to live my life with that thought in mind. Potential. Hope. Redemption. Grace. Mercy. All those things come into play.

    I will always stay at the movies until the credits are done, even when I take my wiggly four young granddaughters. And when they ask why I am waiting, I love to say, “I want to see how to make magic in my own life.”

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