It was the early morning hours of a November day in 2016, and I couldn’t believe that this was really happening. With tears streaming down my face, I took the subway home from the Brooklyn bar where I was watching the big event and meandered through the empty, haunting sidewalks, looking for someone to make eye contact with, to connect with another soul on what felt like the most momentous day of my life.
It wasn’t supposed to happen. Nothing throughout history seemed to wink toward the possibility of this moment. But just past midnight on November 3, 2016, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.
As a kid growing up in ‘90s-era Chicago with sports-crazed parents and two obsessed older brothers, my place along the professional sports landscape always fell along the extremes. Thanks to the Chicago Bulls, I knew what it meant to win. And thanks to the Chicago Cubs, I knew what it meant to lose. And lose. And keep losing. And get close… so close… and then lose again.
While I loved watching basketball, slept in an oversized Tony Kukoc jersey, and was insanely proud to be from the city with the greatest basketball team to ever grace the court, I always felt more emotionally connected to the Cubs. Maybe it was because, as a shy, insecure kid with stunted growth, I often felt like a loser, or maybe it was because, as a Jew, I was more used to things historically not going my way, or maybe it was because it’s just less fun to cheer on a team who doesn’t really need you to believe in them. I felt a real purpose in devoting myself to the underdog Cubbies, their mascot a literal baby bear, who could never seem to quite measure up to the other teams in the MLB.
Before 2016, if you were a Cubs fan, you knew what it meant to suffer, but there was joy in that suffering, too, a yearning that followed after every failed season: There’s always next year, there’s always next year, there’s always next year.
And then, in 2016, next year was here.
For six days, I basked in the euphoria, wearing my Cubs gear all over Brooklyn, high-fiving strangers, FaceTiming my parents back in Chicago, rewatching the clip of the game-clinching out over and over, surprised by the sound of my own whooping and hollering. And in that euphoria, hope became contagious. An incredibly important election was coming up, and after watching the Cubs take it all the way, I allowed myself the cocky confidence of believing that Hillary Clinton was going to win. Everything else was coming up roses; why wouldn’t this work out, too?
It’s hard to even remember what it felt like to have so much unbridled joy, all that embarrassing hope. At 8:30 a.m. on November 8, I texted my mom a selfie of myself, an “I voted” sticker stuck to my sweater, with the message, “I just voted for our first female president!!!” A minute later, my mom replied, “Yay!!! She’s going to win, I can feel it!!” Forgive us for our naïveté: We were just a couple of gals from Chicago who felt like, finally, history was on our side.
Of course, we all know what happened next. Less than a week after the Cubs claimed victory, Donald Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States. There I was, walking home from what was supposed to be a celebration among friends, with tears streaming down my face. Once again, I couldn’t believe that this was really happening. The Cubs were not supposed to win the World Series, and a racist, xenophobic, antisemitic, narcissistic former reality TV star was definitely not supposed to become President of the United States.
This year, as we near an even more historic election, I’ve been trying to not allow myself such hope. By telling myself Trump will be re-elected, I won’t feel the horrifying shock if that comes true; if I’m wrong, holy cow, what a pleasant surprise. But ever an optimist, I also feel like some essential part of me is missing when I insist to myself that I must not have hope.
One thing they don’t tell you about your beloved baseball team finally winning the World Series is that eventually, you might miss the yearning. You might miss the comforting looks of pity from your Yankee fan friends who will never truly understand what it means to try so hard and still fail. One day, you might miss the glassy look in your mom’s eyes when she says, yet again, “Well, there’s always next year.”
A win doesn’t really feel like a win without the long, grueling path it took to get there. And while watching the Cubs win Game 7, in extra innings, after a rain delay, following an 108-year drought, will forever be one of my most cherished memories, it’s never going to be the image that comes to mind when I think about what it means to be a Cubs fan. That, instead, looks like my father yelling at the television screen, devoted fans streaming out of Wrigley Field with their heads hung low, a knot in my stomach churning tighter with every pitch.
Now my stomach churns with every breaking news report, every flippant tweet, every unwatchable speech, and I’m back in that familiar pit of despair. And while the ramifications of a baseball game do not come remotely close to a presidential election (they’re not even in the same ballpark, if you will), I am trying to take some advice from my former Cubs fan self, before I ever tasted that sweetness of a win.
The Cubs winning the World Series didn’t change the world for the better, and it didn’t actually change my life at all, save for a solid week of unabashed gloating and a couple of new t-shirts in my drawer.
The outcome of this election, on the other hand, absolutely can change the world for the better — or for the much, much worse. But no single election, no single politician, has ever been what America is all about. America is about the continuous fight for justice, the marches for equality, the protests in the streets, the immigrants and refugees who come here in search of something better, the people, all the people, who never give up. We haven’t reached our goals yet, have never delivered on that promise of equality and justice for all that was written into our constitution, but still, we fight. We hope. We yearn.
And we’ll continue to do so, no matter the outcome, no matter who wins.
Being a Cubs fan couldn’t have prepared me any better for that.
How I Keep Calm is our series featuring different ways people manage anxiety. We’ve slightly reframed that to How I Have Hope, in light of, you know, everything. If you have a pitch for this column, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with “How I Keep Calm” or “How I Have Hope” in the subject line.