March 21, 2014 | The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner
"Hope Springs Eternal, Even When Our Brackets Break"
Yesterday was the first day of Spring and for many parts of the country it was a day filled more with hope than the actual experience of Spring. As I witnessed two people playing golf yesterday on a course still partially covered in snow I thought of the famous words of an English poet, Alexander Pope, which were penned in 1733, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Pope goes on to express so well the hope for the warmer weather that is sure to come for these golfers and others who are patiently waiting, “The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home, rests and expatiates in a life to come.”
We can also see hope springing eternal in the world of college basketball this week as this week also marked the beginning of the NCAA Men's College Basketball Tournament. This annual “March Madness” experience is one where sixty-eight college basketball teams are chosen to compete over a three week period of time to see which team can win six consecutive games to emerge as the national champion for the year. Hope springs eternal for each of the sixty-eight teams, as well as for the millions of fans who have made their predictions of which teams will win each of the sixty-seven games being played over the next three weeks. Millions of fans in pools with family, friends, and office workers around the country have “filled out their brackets,” meaning they have predicted who they are hoping will win each of the upcoming games.
The odds of filling out a perfect bracket, one in which a person accurately predicts the winner of all 67 games are, 9.2 quintillion to one. To give you an idea of how big that number is, think 9.2 billion multiplied by one billion . Talk about hope springing eternal! Anyone who participates in this annual rite of prognostication, as I always do, knows the sorrow that quickly comes to pass when one's bracket is broken when unexpected outcomes and upsets come to pass. These unexpected outcomes are officially known as “bracket busters” and if one has too many of these too soon in the tournament then it quickly becomes clear that one's hope will have to spring eternal for better luck in picking the winners of next year's tournament.
Sports mirrors life in so many ways. In this case, the sheer improbability of predicting a perfect tournament bracket mirrors the sheer improbability of any of us predicting how our lives will unfold. We regularly enter into new relationships, new jobs, and new adventures of all sorts based on how we think things will unfold. We make our best predictions, fill out our brackets, and then hope for the best. Inevitably, though, our brackets--our hopes--will get broken and we will have to pick up the pieces and try again.
Sixty-seven of the sixty-eight teams in this year's college basketball tournament will go home having lost their last game of the season. Does that fact prevent any of them from showing up and playing with all their hearts? Of course not, because the combination of their love of the game and the fact that hope springs eternal means that they will give it their all, no matter what the outcome may be. Their efforts inspire me to live my life the same way. I simply need to keep showing up every day because I love life itself, and because I have great hope that even though my bracket will surely get broken at times, in the end it is the playing of the game, the living and loving of life itself, that is its own reward.
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