I’m not a big football fan, but my eye was drawn to a New York Times article about 26 year old Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed. He’s suffered six diagnosed concussions, and continues to play. He’s aware of the growing body of evidence that head injuries increase the probability of developing C.T.E., chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive, degenerative brain disease. But he continues to play, and to get hit. It’s what he’s being paid for.
Why does he stay in the game? He has a 50M contract. Football is all he’s ever done, or wanted to do. He supports his mother, and his own young family.
I think it’s called denial. We all engage in denial, in matters large and small. “Trump won’t be so bad — he’ll surround himself with good people.” “I know I need to lose weight, and I will at some point, but right now I feel healthy.” “I know I shouldn’t still be driving, but I don’t want to give up my independence. If I have a dizzy spell I’ll just pull over.”
I’d call it a spiritual discipline to refuse to live in denial. I insist on acknowledging that I’m closer to the end of my life than to the beginning, and to make intentional choices about how I spend my time, and with whom. I catch myself when I waver on my annual charitable giving, worried that a Trump victory will tank the market and reduce my financial margin for error. In truth, I have enough to share. I monitor my blood pressure, even though I hate doing it, and don’t allow myself to say, “Well, I can check it next week. I really feel fine.” I have hypertension, controlled by meds. I have to monitor, to be sure “controlled” is operative.
Denial takes over at moments of extreme crisis, like the sudden death of a spouse, and is a self-protective mechanism. That works for me, and I think it’s healthy. What’s not healthy — like Jordan Reed — is continuing to act in ways that are harmful, while hoping that faith in God and the good fortune of being the exception to the rule will over-ride reality.