How My Grandfather’s Photos Taught Me About the Restorative Power of Sports

I remember the exact moment when my grandfather took out a box with hundreds of black-and-white photos in his house in Mexico City. I was 10 years old. They’re images from another time, taken in a now-crowded neighborhood that used to be dotted with volcanic rocks, corn fields, and open spaces. One is of my mother as a child, around the same age I was at the time, dressed as a ballerina and posing confidently with her muscular little arm above her head.

There were also pictures of my grandfather, who worked at a textile factory for many years. In his spare time, though, he was always an enthusiastic amateur athlete. One photo shows him with his soccer team from the factory (a black-and-white snapshot painted over with pastels), the boss beaming proudly over the workers from the back row. Another shows him trim and tall speeding on his bike down a hill. In another, he stares down the camera inside a boxing ring with his leather gloves on. That image – my grandfather as a boxer – always fascinated me the most. Across the back of the photo, he wrote the following words: “1947: Remember my times of…” Then the sentence trails off.

My grandfather’s lifelong love of sports influenced the way he thought about life, and as the patriarch of our large extended family, how we all did as well. He knew that in life, sports teach us more about losing than winning, simply because so many of us don’t win. What it teaches above all is that it is OK to lose. Losing is not the worst thing in the world, because in sports, unlike in war, the loser can always get another chance. You lose most of the time, but as long as you stay in the game there will always be a chance to redeem yourself.

Sports teach us more about losing than winning.

This view of life probably comes from his time as a boxer and a street fighter. The southern part of Mexico City, which used to be criss-crossed with ancient canals, was being developed into an urban metropolis when my grandfather was a kid. Tough kids like him would spar for money, with adults making bets on who would win the fights. They were staged in deep ditches, which the government was digging for a future drainage system. He had five fights under his belt when he married my grandmother, who made him give it up. He learned about the motivations people in those fights around him had, their virtues and values and failings.

This past holiday season, I was in my grandparents’ house once again, and I found myself looking through those old black-and-white photos, trying to discern how to read them as some kind of guide for how to move forward with my life.

Sitting beside my grandfather on the bed where he spends most of his time these days, we reminisced about his athletic past, all while watching the Pumas lose in an emotional and epic championship match. My grandfather, sad about the defeat, simply said, “Life goes on.”