I will confess to having an unhealthy fascination for the Lance Armstrong saga. I watched his interview on Oprah last week.
I am not a fan. I do not follow cycling. I have no stake in his guilt or innocence, punishment or redemption. But I have a stake in the human story and what we can learn about ourselves by opening our eyes to one another. I don’t share the views of those who say, “Cheating doesn’t matter” or “Everyone does it” or “He is a demon” or “He was persecuted” or “He should rot in hell.” I have an interest in pain and suffering. That’s all his story is about. His story is about how we suffer and cause others to suffer. Pain should interest us all.
What I saw on TV last week was not what some saw. I did not see dispassion or denial, not the face of evil or greed. I saw a man stupefied by his own deep terror, his unmet fear. A man who has broken his own heart. And by seeing it, my heart breaks too. Our hearts are lanced—how can they not be?—when we finally face the savagery of our self-deceptions.
He talked about all of the events, all of the doping and dodging, as part of his life strategy to “control the outcome.” And not just in competition. Not just after cancer. He is a small man, actually, and you can see in his slightness the shadow of a small boy. A boy without a father, without a family, without the birthright or build that gives men swagger in Texas. Even then he was mortally afraid. And so he fought, he stole, and he bullied. Audacity can take you far, it just can’t take you to the finish before the cracks open up and the road crumbles beneath you.
His delusion is our own delusion. We all live as if we can control the outcome.
Some were unsatisfied with his stiffness, terseness, and the apparent stinginess of empathy and emotion. But I saw a feeling so big it swallowed him whole. I saw it in the way he turned his head or covered his mouth. In his choking, wordless paralysis. He cannot run. He cannot ride. He cannot even move.
A friend who knows all about the side effects of cancer observed that Armstrong rarely called cancer by name but rather as “the disease.” It’s not really his cancer that goes nameless, because that is not the disease that has killed Lance Armstrong. The disease that felled him—that destroys us in the prime of our lives no matter what the prognosis—is fear.
I am sorry for Lance Armstrong and collaterally, for everyone hurt, down, sad and overcome, like me, by the poison pierce of rampant fear. Let each of us, in our own way, face our fear before we cause more harm. Before our time is up. Then maybe we can live strong.