The Art of Losing

Hannibal DePencier

with apologies to Elizabeth Bishop:

Extraordinary defeat is a meditative experience.  In the process of all great defeat, frustration rises and dignity declines before you necessarily recede into a numb meditative state while plugging corks into the insurmountable accumulation of holes in your hull.  You’ll sink and think, and when you find yourself below the surface then finally with Davy Jones surely you’ll ask: why?  If the failure is sufficiently, devastatingly final then this will not be the ‘why’ of logical questioning of consequence, but that of exhausted, rhetorical, metaphysical inquiry.  In other words, ‘fuck…’.


Such was my utterance as I lay on the sideline of Brentwood College’s rugby pitch, questioning the integrity of my spine, surveying the state of my team, and considering the totality of a 66-0 loss to a school called Shawnigan Lake. The Stags of Shawnigan play rugby all three seasons of the school year, touring places such as South Africa and the UK in order to elicit challenging competition. At the center of nine full sized playing fields, their rugby “pavilion” (see photo) dons a Team Canada emblem above the doors, and plaques within recognizing their abundance of alumni who play and have played for our national team. In hind-sight, as we were visiting and practicing on Shawnigan’s campus a day before our demise, it was evident that their environment of competition and commitment was a preview of our inevitable fate the next day.


Rugby epitomizes conflict. It’s about organization, communication, strength, and preparation in order to control chaos. The master of this chaos necessarily prevails. So as I sat in pain, in the aftermath of defeat I couldn’t help but feel the transferable nature of this failure and finally: ‘why…?’


Was there some lesson to be extracted here, a ‘learning experience’ as the IB would have it? Maybe, but the condescending part about that sentiment, that all failure is a lesson on how not to fail next time, fails itself to account for the inevitability of some defeat. Sometimes the other team is just bigger, faster, more prepared than you are. Sometimes, despite the extent of your own preparation and effort, it’s just not enough. I arrived at that conclusion as I unlaced my cleats and I was mad. ‘What if we…nope. Maybe next time we…nope.’


Losing is a meditative experience. Sometimes the only thing to be learned is what Elizabeth Bishop called, the art of losing.