March 30, 2011, was a dreary day in Winston-Salem, N.C.—cold, gray, and wet—but that didn’t stop me from getting to BB&T Ballpark early. The Class-A Winston-Salem Dash were hosting the Chicago White Sox, and I was in desperate need of a distraction. After nearly four years of high school, I was about to move a step closer to finding out where I would head next as the last college admission decisions were supposed to come in any minute.
I remember little from the day, except for constantly refreshing my phone, huddling by some heat lamps in the concourse, and the stomach-drop feeling I got during our drive home when I found out that I had gotten into Harvard.
Fast forward 10 weeks to June 6, a perfect late-spring day interrupted by a text I will never forget.
I was sitting on the couch—exactly where I had celebrated my acceptance to Harvard with my family—when my phone buzzed, the same phone that had brought such great news 68 days prior.
“I know it shouldn’t be sent through text,” read the message from my friend Hamid, “but Mehdy died.”
I remember the rest of that awful day vividly. Sinking into the leather, retreating to the bathroom, crying well into the night.
Mehdy Hazheer was the greatest person I’ll ever know. He had befriended a 90-year-old at a local nursing home and helped at his dad’s mechanic shop. He took a life-changing trip to Iran and wanted to return to the Middle East one day as a doctor. I could go on and on.
Forty-seven days before he passed, we both toured Harvard with wide eyes during Visitas. We stared at murals in Widener Library, threw a frisbee in the Yard, and tried to eat a meal in Annenberg Hall but kept getting distracted by the stained glass windows and inspiring company, chatting about all of the things he would never get a chance to do.
Going to Harvard without him was hard. I could feel his absence in all of the places we had visited months earlier. But I did not feel sorry for myself. I came to recognize that each day was another opportunity to achieve my dreams. And so I lived out these last four years, motivated by the incredible opportunity of a Harvard acceptance letter and the great misfortune of a deserving friend not getting the same chance.
I’m reminded of that dualism every time I open my wallet. On the left sits my Harvard ID, and on the right, a photo of Mehdy and I from our middle school graduation, the last graduation he had.
Wins and losses, that’s what I want this parting shot to be about, which is why I led with the greatest success and the most painful loss of my life to date.
I covered a lot more victories than defeats for The Crimson, something like 140 to 30, but it’s the losses that have stuck with me.
It started with Princeton’s stunning 39-34 comeback win over Harvard during my first season covering football.
Treavor Scales ’13 said the fourth quarter felt surreal as the Tigers eliminated a 24-point deficit. The bus ride back was dead silent the entire way.
“We were all awestruck,” he said. “We didn’t understand what had just happened.”
Coach Tim Murphy said he could not eat for two days afterwards. He’s coached nearly 200 games but said he’ll never forget that one.
Almost all wins feel the same. Getting into Harvard or beating Yale, it follows the constant rhythm of preparation, hope, attempt, success, and celebration. And as a result, the details of each blend together.
But every loss hurts differently: unexpected and debilitating.
My run as a Crimson writer ended with another loss, this one in Jacksonville, Fla., after senior Wesley Saunders missed what would have been a game-winning three-pointer against North Carolina in the NCAA tournament.
Had the shot gone in, the game would have been an all-time classic, and yet what turned out to be yet another win by one of the sport’s powerhouses somehow seemed even more powerful.
Afterwards, co-captain Steve Moundou-Missi said the sting of the loss might last forever. The thrill of a 52-50 victory over Yale in the Ivy League Playoff a week earlier had hardly lasted a few days.
Having to ask players about heartbreaking losses had long been my least favorite part of sportswriting. The losing was also the part of being a sports fan that turned me off, or so I thought. I could not watch the final seconds of a big game because I couldn’t bear the thought of sad faces being shown for my enjoyment.
But, given whom I was rooting for, I had tons of opportunities to come to terms with defeats.
Start with my favorite football player, Brett Favre, who threw costly, season-ending, tear-inducing interceptions in the playoffs as an annual ritual. Yet he never stopped throwing.
And then there is my basketball team, the San Antonio Spurs. They’ve won plenty in my lifetime, but they have also suffered some horrible losses. The season I felt closest to them was 2013-2014, a year after they had crumpled me in a hotel bedroom and left me welling with tears in a Wyoming bar by losing Games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals. After they won the Finals the following year, the bond just was not the same.
Eventually, I came to see the power of losses. They make famous athletes feel relatable and their struggle feel shared. I came to believe sports belong at top universities because it’s the rare field in which successful people are allowed to fail, expected to fail, and can learn from failing.
During a time of painful loss in my life, I needed to see how others dealt with it and to learn that loss can lead to good things.
Wins all feel the same because they are conclusions, I realized. A win is just ecstasy, but a loss is more than misery. Losses linger for years. Maybe forever. They affect you. They are not ends. They represent parts of a bigger, more interesting story.
Wins count. Losses matter.
Sports taught me that. Harvard taught me that. Mehdy taught me that.
And just in time. Now, I understand that when I leave my Harvard ID behind very soon, it’s just another loss, not an end.
—Staff writer Jacob Feldman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.