Sunday, June 11, 2017

Glory's sorrow

My two kids graduated from two different high schools this weekend, 16 1/2 hours apart, and so there was joy and laughter and a houseful of friends and family in our small corner of the earth. There were balloons and gifts and old-guy talk on the back deck about what meds we were on (thanks, cousin Mike, for that hilarious observation), and of course, you know, cake.

There was also much time-worn talk about the future and the boundless possibilities it could hold, and how on this day every new crop of bright hopes sees their lives spread out before them like a limitless feast.

And here is where the Blob takes you somewhere else today.

Here, against that giddy backdrop, is where it takes you to a darker place, a place where that limitless feast sometimes finds the saddest of limits. That place this past week was in a logjam in the Maumee River. That's where they found James Hardy's body, and where his future stopped in the most heartbreaking way possible.

An audible gasp rose up around the city when the body pulled from the river was identified as Hardy, because the world of games confers an outsized notoriety in our society, and Hardy's was more outsized than most. A transcendent two-sport athlete, one of the best ever produced in this town, he took Elmhurst High School to the state finals as a basketball player, finished runnerup as Mr. Basketball, and left as the city's alltime leading scorer.

And as a football player?

Everyone wanted him. Everyone.

He was a 6-foot-7 wide receiver with speed and hands and crazy athleticism, and so the colleges beat a path to his door even though Elmhurst was the polar opposite of a football power. Indiana eventually got him, and Hardy rewarded the Hoosiers by writing his name all over Indiana's record book as one of the nation's top receivers.

And again, everyone wanted him.

And again, everyone regarded him as a singular talent, a can't-miss prospect, a young man who seemed a mortal lock to add to Fort Wayne's already rich pro football lineage.

And then ...

And then he missed.

The Buffalo Bills took him in the second round, and he played a little for them, and then he got hurt. And then, suddenly, his football career -- this day in the sun that once seemed it would never end -- was over.

His time as Fort Wayne's alltime leading scorer in basketball lasted only six years before Deshaun Thomas came along and supplanted him. Other receivers came along at IU to put their names alongside his. Even his high school became a memory when Fort Wayne Community Schools closed Elmhurst.

It must have seemed as if he were being erased, slowly but surely. Or some in Hardy's position might have thought.

Whether Hardy himself ever thought that is, of course, mere speculation. It leads to further speculation, and further speculation beyond that, and it ends with us making all sorts of assumptions about how James Hardy wound up in that river. The Blob will not play that game. It is unfair to Hardy and unfair to those who loved him and who survive him.

And so all I'll say is that, at 31, how James Hardy's life ended was a damn shame. Every life that ends too soon is that, of course, but when you are an athletic god in America and you wind up in a logjam in some rain-swollen stream, the loss is magnified. It is the classic Greek tragedy of a man who never knew defeat losing everything because of either human frailty, or the cosmic inevitability of Stuff Happens.

Stuff happened to James Hardy, athletic god. Stuff that should never happen to either gods or mortals. Stuff that in fact happens too often in a world that seems to take cruel delight in pulling down those who shine too brightly for too long.

A damn shame. Such a damn shame.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you. My heart goes out to the Hardy family.