I actually experienced a physical reaction to the news of Phil Hughes’ death. When told, I felt a tingle in my skin from the small of my back up my spine to my neck, followed by the hairs on my arms standing on end. I was truly shocked, with my heart thumping in my chest. How could a man so young, so healthy, so talented, living the life that so many Australians would love, be so suddenly gone?
How could all that protection not have kept him safe? How could all the benefits of modern medicine not keep him alive? How? How? How? We often ask how, or why. We seek explanation, we seek knowledge. To understand can be to deal with the situation. I think though that the more pertinent word can be ‘what’.
What does this mean?
I have seen a variety of video clips and photographical homages from a wide variety of sources, as well as the very moving #putoutyourbats on social media, which had photos of cricket bats from far and wide leaning on walls and fences as a tribute. All of these things are tear-inducing and touching, but can sometimes seem to mask the reality of this situation.
When the world slowly moves on to other subjects and events, the friends and family of Phillip Hughes will be left with only memories and the horrible feeling in the pits of their stomachs that they will never see or speak to him again. I don’t know, but maybe these tributes are kind of meant to mask that reality. It is a very harsh one, and hard to accept.
I dealt with this early in my life, as when I was ten my brother Mick passed away, and I am left with a brother that I will never know. Every person on every street, and even those with no street at all, through the various millennia, have experienced this horrible reality and struggled to deal with it. Religions and philosophies are created to cope with the reality that our time and that of our loved ones is finite on this planet.
If there is an afterlife, and I sure hope there is, that is where I will start anew my relationship with my brother, as I have not had him around for the past 24 years. The reality is that the afterlife is now the only place where the Hughes family and the cricketing fraternity will once again see their beloved “bruz”.
So what does it mean? I have my thoughts, please let me tell you a story about a great bloke named Ecca.
Ecca was the Dad of my mate Ash. I met Ash in Year 7, and over the years I spent a considerable amount of his time at his house. They were a sporty family, with Ash having two older brothers who both played footy and cricket, and so I fit in with them pretty well.
Ecca led the way in the sporting love. He played footy for East Burwood, and was a Life Member at two cricket clubs, East Burwood and East Ringwood. He’d set up a cricket pitch in his backyard and that is where me and my mates would go to participate in some pretty epic games of BYC (backyard cricket). My mates and I faced many a delivery of what we described as “left arm Eccas”.
His name was actually used amongst us blokes to describe three things: the “Left Arm Eccas” refer to anyone bowling left arm orthdox; an “Ecca” in footy was simply a drop kick, as he would only stray from his favourite mode of disposal when he mixed it up with a torpedo; and “General Ecca-ing” referred to the act of undertaking maintenance in ones’ backyard.
He was a much loved figure, the sort of bloke that you’d smile about when his name came up in conversation. My last opportunity to see him came at Boxing Day in 2013. I was at the cricket with my brother Marty, and at the tea break I took the time to head into the bowels of the MCG to catch up with Ash and his two brothers H and Sticks for a beer.
The three brothers, being MCC Members, would head into the Boxing Day Test every year with Ecca, yet he had stayed in his seat during the break. I was enjoying the conversation a bit too much and lingered in the bar a bit longer than I’d intended, so play had gotten back underway, meaning when I left I went straight back to my seat with Marty.
I clearly recall contemplating heading up to have a quick chat with Ecca before going back to my seat, but decided that no, “I’ll just catch up with him next time.” Of course, there would be no next time, as he would pass away unexpectedly in the early months of 2014.
I put myself in Ash’s situation, with it being my Dad that passed, and wonder how I would fair. It is not a pretty concept. On a number of occasions since Phil Hughes’ death I have seen a photo of him in his full Test kit and his arm around his Dad, huge grins on each of their faces. This photo made a bit of a mess of me, as I am a father and have such a greater understanding of what it must be like to lose your child than I did seven years ago.
So what does it mean? It all means that we should not put off good things that we should do until later. It means that we should take up opportunities to do the things we are passionate about and see the people that we care about when they arise. It means that we should bloody well live our lives as best we can because we only get one shot at it.
Of course, the irony is that Phil Hughes died doing exactly that. He was a passionate cricket nut plying his craft as best he could in the pursuit of greatness. He was bloody well living his life, and I think he lived it bloody well.
As I wrote earlier, every person through the stretch of time is grappling or has grappled with the reality of life and death. Sportsmen and celebrities inspire a reaction from a larger group of people, but theirs are not more compelling stories than that of Ecca and his like. His story is more important to me personally, as he created and helped mould a bloke who lives the very ideology I’ve outlined above.
Ash has been described as a “moments person”. He is inspired by opportunity, he enjoys experiencing the options presented by life, be it doing something or seeing someone. If he can, he inevitably will. I love this. I’m inspired by it. I understand that tomorrow it could be any of the people I know that is gone forever, or it could be me. We’d all better make the most of it.
In fact, I’ll summarise using Ash’s words: “Get amongst it!”
Follow Greg Gibson on Twitter: @GregGibbo28