Yorgo Sarris/Contributing Writer
I sat in a pew at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Mountain Brook on the morning of March 12, 2020 at a funeral Mass held for the husband of my third cousin. It was a beautiful but somber morning, for he had left behind a whole family after a long bout of cancer. There was a malaise, an uneasiness in the air: the specter of the “coronavirus.” No one knew much about it by then. We still sat shoulder to shoulder, no distancing, shaking hands at the sign of peace. That said, everyone had in the back of their minds, “should I be here doing this?” But it went on, no masks or precautions.
Before Mass, I had anxiously been refreshing my Twitter feed, as Alabama was scheduled to play in an SEC basketball tournament game later that morning in Nashville. If memory serves, other conferences had already called off tournaments and individual teams totally opted out of the season. But the South had not reported many coronavirus cases and things were still relatively normal. That is, until they called off the game and the entire tournament probably five minutes before Mass began.
Within the same day, the NCAA Tournament was cancelled. March Madness was no longer; in fact, it was one of “long March’s” early casualties. All the anticipation, all the regular season games, every single practice was all for naught. There would be no brackets, watch parties, upsets or buzzer beaters. There would only be lockdowns and isolations. Sports were never essential enough to go on.
But now we have partially emerged from the COVID pandemic in regard to how much we know about the virus. We know, for example, college basketball players and college students are not usually susceptible to death attributed to COVID. We know that with protocols we can participate in and watch sports safely and continue to enjoy them. Even I got the pleasure of attending three games of the 2020 national champion Alabama Crimson Tide football team.
March Madness will go on this year and one will be able to fill out a bracket and watch games with friends again (albeit adhering to the University’s guidelines). What you missed in the treacherous 2020 will be back in 2021. But what to make about the incredible efforts to have a normal sportsyear from the fall of 2020 until now —why even try? March Madness seems to have been the first major event to go thanks to COVID, and we have come full circle, a whole year, back to the point where it started, or should I say ended.
The longing and enjoyment of sports reveals something about humans. We are made for something more than the laborious life. Work is good and proper, and necessary. But there is something that we missed during lockdowns — the nonessential things. Everything deemed nonessential was closed or forced online. There were no sports, museums, get-togethers or eating at restaurants. There was only work, either at your factory or on Zoom. And maybe you watched television and tweeted the whole time, but only by yourself.
We missed athletics because we are not just made for utility. Again, there is more to life than work. The culmination of creation was a day of rest, likewise, the culmination of our days and weeks should be rest and leisure: partaking in what the moderns have called “nonessential.” We crave fraternity, community, art, culture and sports (a friendly competitiveness). Unfortunately, none of these things were available during quarantine. There was no leisure, only a longing for something greater than miserable time spent on a laptop or phone.
Leisure, in part to me, is partaking in the “trouble-free” things. Going to a museum or playing golf and immersing yourself in something that is not usual work, for refreshment and enjoyment and not for any utility or gain. The pandemic naturally had no room for such; we cannot blame governments for putting a halt to them. However, we learned that there was real pain in missing them, as inconsequential as they may be.
March Madness is the epitome of inconsequential. There is no utility to making a bracket or spending money on food while you watch a basketball game; you watch as many games as you can, not even your own team. It’s called “madness” because the unexpected is expected — upsets, buzzer beaters and Cinderella stories. Yet, there is nothing you will gain from watching except leisure and particular enjoyment. And that’s certainly a good thing. After all, life is not meant to be restless and unenjoyable.
So this year, (safely) do all things you could not last year. Savor them, and try to remember how sullen life was without them. Spend more time doing the “nonessential” things: go appreciate art at a museum, play a sport outside with your friends, eat out, try something new and watch basketball.