Messi, joy and a World Cup

It was weird, the experience of an absolute football junkie deciding that on a personal level, this World Cup was an event that should be skipped.

They were the same reasons everyone who skipped it had, of course. And as the tournament moved through its paces, being part of Football Twitter of course made it impossible to avoid, even as not watching was … well … pretty easy, as it turns out.

And twice during the tournament, when so many were flush with anxiety about Messi, Argentina and the possibility of him and his team not winning the World Cup, it all seemed to obvious to me and I Tweeted as such. Essentially, the Football Gods aren’t going to let anything shitty happen at this World Cup at a time when the game needs joy.

So when Argentina won, it felt, for me, like the most obvious thing in the world. But as someone who didn’t really care about the tournament it was nonetheless a special thing for me, because joy.

It has been a very long time since a single event has brought so many people so much joy, the kind of blissful human emotion so palpable that it feels like you can almost walk on it, surf it or just mainline it into your veins. It was an extraordinary thing, watching Twitter timelines on Sunday, watching as almost the entirety of Football Twitter gave itself over to unfettered joy.

From as far back as I can remember, I have been chasing joy. As a child, I once split my head open after tripping up a flight of stairs, giddy with joy that my Mom had come home from work. I have changed jobs, pursued sports, chased women, gotten married and divorced, acted like a big ol’ man ho — even changed countries of residence, all in pursuit of joy.

Joy feels elusive, but it’s all around us. The other day, after a what seemed like a year of constant rain in Portugal, the sun was out, and it was warm. Everybody was smiling and walking a little bit slower, just basking in it. It was easy to feel in the air, almost like you could put your hand out and scoop some up.

Joy is often described as “childlike,” but that’s only because grumpy adults so often forget how simple joy is, how easy it is to find. And how sometimes, you can find your joy in how happy everyone else is, because happiness is fundamentally joyful.

As a culer, it’s impossible not to feel like you owe so much to Lionel Messi, even as a grump who asserts that they aren’t a fan of any player. The things he has done, the moments he has brought to us all. And not just the championships, but the little things. That tingle of anticipation we used to feel when he walked up to take a free kick, or him taking a pass, turning to face the defense and the way we all slid forward on our seats because Something was going to happen. The goals, the passes, the extended highlight reel of pure footballing excellence that never got old, never felt mundane.

That assist against the Netherlands that had people falling off their chairs, had culers remembering the dozens of other times he has made passes like that.

Watching the clip where the Argentine football journalist was thanking Messi, and as the effusion washed over him, to look at his face and demeanor, almost … not as if he wanted to be somewhere else, but like he still didn’t fully understand all of it. He was just a man doing the thing that he loved and seeming almost uncomfortable at the elevation of it into something almost divine. It was a moment that was so pure and beautiful.

Angel Di Maria wrote a note to his wife, saying that Argentina was going to win and he was going to score a goal. He was someone else who was certain that the Football Gods weren’t going to deprive the world of that joy.

During the final that I wasn’t watching, I Tweeted that the joy was still going to come, but that folks were going to have to suffer for it. And then it exploded, and it was such an extraordinary feeling that even now the words to describe how it felt are difficult to find.

As humans with hearts and souls, we are supposed to want good things to happen. We are supposed to find our own bliss in the joy of others. As someone who is, like even the most wizened practitioners of Eastern religion just a newbie, there’s stuff in the air — feelings, emotions, energy. It’s easy to connect to, the good and the bad.

My first time in San Francisco on a cycling trip with friends, I spent the first night in a posh hotel downtown. Stepping over and around the homeless in a city that seemed to have so much, filled me with a sadness that permeated my soul and left me a wreck for the entire trip. You want to do something, anything. Feeling suffering as acutely as joy is something difficult to manage, but it also just is. It’s a part of being open to the world, to all of the feelings.

The way football reacted to Messi winning the World Cup is one of the best feelings I have ever experienced from football, and I didn’t even care who won, didn’t even watch. It was all of you and what you were feeling, the various ways you expressed it, or thinking about being a journalist covering the match, who had to bin one story. Then another. Then … whoops, another until finally, the story that you got to write was so extraordinary that it made it all worth it.

The World Cup is a truly global event, one that encompasses everything. There was joy in the blissful reception that the Morocco team received from their supporters, from the massive reception that the French team received. Football unites the world in a way that American sports fans will never understand. But what unites even more is when something that is beautiful and right happens. I suspect that even French players were happy for Messi. You can’t love football and not have been happy for Messi.

But this World Cup was an amazing one for joy junkies. Since falling for the game hard after that Rivaldo chilena, joy has been abudant, but it has never, ever felt like it has on Sunday. I don’t think the best kind of joy is personal. The best kind is vicarious and massive, the kind that if you were able to harness it could change the world. It makes you smile about something you don’t really care about, makes the world feel right, brighter and filled with promise. When everyone is happy, all over the same thing, the world is just a better place, even for just a few, fleeting moments.

In looking back at this World Cup all of that is what is so special. Joy is pure. It’s only thought of as childlike because of that cleansing purity. Sunday didn’t just bring joy to fans of Messi and Argentina — it brought joy to everyone open to beautiful things, and it was impossible not to love every second of it.