A hockey season can sometimes be a good metaphor on life. You start the season with a fresh slate, you have your plans, you have an idea where you want go and what you want to do. Of course, it never really goes as planned, does it? A key player gets hurt, a player doesn’t develop the way you thought he would, the competition improves. There are things that occur that are out of your control. As a result, you either adapt and move along or scrap your plans altogether and start over with another path.
Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Sometimes, you have to take a moment to acknowledge what’s happening. Sometimes you need to allow yourself to settle before moving on.
Full disclosure – while I am a diehard Habs fan and have immersed myself in history of the team, I’m also under the age of 35. I only started watching hockey when I was 7, and only began appreciating the history and cultural significance of the Montreal Canadiens in my teens. I never saw Jean Beliveau play. When I heard of his passing this week, beyond a twinge of sadness I didn’t know what else to feel.
I do know he represents the holy trinity of famous French Canadian forwards to wear the CH. Along with The Rocket and The Flower, Le Gros Bill is held to a standard that borders on sainthood in the annals of the Canadiens de Montreal.
He differs from the other two in that he was also able to maintain that saintly personality off the ice as well. Mr. Beliveau was one of those rare athletes, whose greatness as a man outclassed his greatness as an athlete – a huge statement when you can argue he was one of the greatest players to ever play the game. Sadly, his type is quickly becoming extinct. I won’t sit here and write a long memorial on all the man’s achievements, when people who are much more qualified than me have done such an outstanding job framing his life and all his accomplishments, both tangible and intangible.
The following morning I was listening to TSN 690 on my way to work and got to hear so many people – from all walks of life – call in and talk about how Le Gros Bill inspired them with his play on the ice and how Mr. Beliveau inspired them with his humility, class and grace off the ice. In this city, hockey is more than just a game, but that’s really all it is – a game – and real life will always be bigger than the game. We put these legends like Richard and Beliveau on a pedestal, not because they were great hockey players (although that certainly helps) but because they transcended the game and touched our lives in more than one way. As I was listening to these callers, I couldn’t help but get emotional. I remember thinking: “Why am I sad right now?”
I’m not really sure; perhaps it was simply because a really good man passed away, leaving behind family, friends and thousands of fans to mourn and grieve. But I suspect it was deeper than that. Perhaps his loss represents a passing of a generation that we take for granted these days. I think we will be hard pressed to feel that kind of affinity for athletes anymore. Although we have unprecedented access today, with 24 hour news cycle and social media, athletes of today feel fake and generic – a 24/7 commercial, highlighting themselves and hocking their products. It’s a generalization of course, but with Jean Beliveau, we never felt he was anything but himself. That alone is a tremendous accomplishment – to be true to yourself and never compromise who you are for anyone.
Ultimately, no one should be sad at his passing. What I mean by that is he was older, he had a rich and rewarding life and left an indelible impression on so many. He had a good life. His life should be something we aspire to have because it appeared to be full of good, proud accomplishments and love.
True sadness at loss would be if that had never been realized. True sadness is the loss of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who at the age 24 was gunned down needlessly, leaving behind a young child who will never have a father to teach him about the Beliveaus or the Lafleurs, the Roys or the Prices. Death has a funny way of making people evaluate their own lives and take a look at what’s truly important and if they are devoting enough time to those things. So you should probably take that moment and stop worrying about things like losing streaks or slumps, that weird sound coming from your car, or the weather. Stop and think of your heroes and what inspires you, think of Jean Beliveau, think of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, think of your parents and grandparents, think of your friends who died far too young, think of those close to you now – your friends, your family. Take that moment because come tomorrow we’ll all move on, forget that perspective and go back to fretting about the small stuff.
Hey, Habs have lost 6 of 7 and look like they’re in trouble now.
They’ll be fine. After all it’s only a game. Right?
R.I.P. Mr. Gilles Tremblay
R.I.P. Mr. Jean Beliveau