A classic interpretation of Pandora's Box goes something like this: the Gods gave Pandora a box filled with evil things, and told her not to open it. But her curiosity got the better of her and - shades of Eve and the Apple - when she opened the box, all the pain and suffering was released into the world. At the very bottom of the box, the last thing to crawl out, was hope. The gods had left us one good thing amidst all that evil.
I would have loved to write something playful, something indulgent for Grizzlies fans. Apologies to @KevinHFY:
I received the following tweet from, of all places, New Dehli, India:
Naincy. You bored into my brain. I've been thinking a lot about hope these days. It started, of all the places, with the NBA Draft.
We Sell Hope
Basketball is a game dominated by large forces. Getting a superstar is the easiest -and more often than not, only - way to win a championship. Teams without a superstar are more or less left hoping to get a superstar.
That's why the NBA Draft is so important. It is the light at the end of the tunnel. The 25% chance at getting a player who has a 5% chance of one day leading your team to a title (all stats, you know, approximations).
The truth is that most teams in the lottery stay in the lottery. Most of the losers stay losers. It is only after one makes it out that we extoll how they did it as a blueprint.
There's nothing wrong with this. It's much easier to sell the blueprint of hope if it's something like "draft smart" instead of "draft Kevin Durant (then Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka)." The Oklahoma City Blueprint never happens if a number of small things never happens, but the most obvious is if the Trail Blazers buck the consensus of the time and never take Greg Oden.
When Jay Gatsby looked out across the West Egg Bay, the light he saw was the hope of a future with Daisy. And just like Gatsby, most NBA teams are disappointed when they finally capture that light. There are too few Lebrons to go around. Most times, the hopes of a championship are pinned on something closer to Rudy Gay or Carmelo Anthony (the NBA's Daisy Buchanan): a player who looks the part, acts the part, and utterly fails at living up to the part. It is not Melo's fault he isn't Lebron. In a way, it's our fault for expecting him to be.
Pandora's Box - A Second Reading
What if hope isn't good? Isn't it strange that the gods secreted one good thing amongst all that evil? Did they mess up? Was it a gift?
Hope tormented Gatsby. It made him a rich criminal who was never happy. Even after he finally found Daisy, even she didn't live up to the elaborate scaffolding his hope had erected.
Hope makes sports fans christen teenagers as saviors. For years we searched for the next Jordan. Vince Carter, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady - their generation's biggest crime was that they weren't Michael Jordan. To varying degrees, this is part of how they will be remembered.
Hope can corrupt reality. Or maybe we're just doing it wrong.
The Leap: Hope Is Life
Leap with me. Let's capture a star, quicken the ditty, punch some bricks, and go a level up. Because talking about hope means talking about more than sports.
What I want to suggest is that the act of being a sports fan is a surrogate for something else. Being a fan is an act of hope, played in an arena with lower, safer stakes than our own lives. I may be giving sports too much credit, or too little, but in a realm where there is only one winner, there is also a lot of unfulfilled hope. And yet people watch the hell out of it.
Why is it that when I'm on the road, in a hotel room alone, I watch the Grizzlies with Grizzlies Twitter roaring like an inferno? All of these people, watching a game, making pithy comments, yelling at the refs. I share something with all of them, even if it is something as small (large?) as the hope that one day the Grizzlies will win a championship. It is, in a word, nice. At the moment I can't think of a better way to define "catharsis," but I'm sure there is one. Or maybe I'm wrong. I'm a little punchy, and made a Super Mario reference a couple paragraphs previous. What do I know?
This: here are just some of the hopes I've held:
1). Go to the best college I possibly could (Debatably achieved)
2). Play in the NBA (NOPE)
3). Write a novel (pending)
4). Learn ancient Greek (........pending?)
5). Others (which aren't mine to tell even though they're mine).
Like we all do, I've made compromises along the way. The NBA wasn't happening because of a genetic deficiency that can be reduced to "I am not a world class athlete." Yet when I Create-a-Player he always soars to the All-Star Game. Others, like learning ancient Greek, can be filed under "More Trouble Than They're Worth."
But in the list above, number five is the most crushing. These are the hopes so secret, so integral, so fundamental to our selves that speaking them aloud is impossible. How do you say, to a co-worker you've known for years, that you never wanted to work in a cubicle? That you loved playing the piano once, but just, you know, haven't recently? That you were at your most happy in high school?
Did others file these where I buried "learning ancient Greek?" Or maybe where I buried "Play in the NBA?"
Not everyone's hopes are the same, but maybe at one point they were. Maybe it went something like this: happiness. To be a good person. To love and be loved in return. To maybe leave something on the earth that will outlive our once warm bodies.
No kid harbors the deep, secret hope that one day he will grow up to fall asleep, starving, under a bridge.
No child yearns to one day climb atop a lonely chair to asphyxiate himself.
Yet these things happen. They've happened today. They will happen tomorrow.
"The Leftovers" is on. The piano keys have quickened. A son leaps into a pool. For seconds he's submerged. Then he screams mutely. We can't hear him. This image transfixes me, even though it's an entirely painful thing to watch. It's the entire show, the regret, the loss, the unfulfilled hope, boiled down to seconds.
It's Prufrock's love song for 2014, Vined.
Everybody struggles with something. Your pain isn't just yours; it's ours. Pain is terrible, but it is our condition. In a world going increasingly niche, it was the first, and is one of the last, universals. In this way pain can be beautiful because it brings us together. Nobody is alone.
The truth is that once Pandora's Box opened it engulfed us, and we were inside it. Hope wasn't the last thing to crawl out - we were.
Crawling out is what we call hope. Most times, it takes help. People who commit suicide aren't different than us. Kids gunned down in the streets aren't different than us. They are us, or had been once, or very well could have been if someone had just crawled out with them.