A letter to Sean Abbott


Dear Sean,

Neurobiologists tell us that we are generously hard-wired for empathy, and our innate theory of mind enables us to negotiate our way through the maze of our fellow human beings’ thought processes.

How I wish this was wholly true. For, then I would be able to say that I know how it feels to be in your shoes right now. But unless I can exchange my consciousness for yours, this is impossible.

The truth is, apart from Phil Hughes’s family members, you are the one who’d be the most devastated at the moment, inhabiting as you do a very special kind of hell — one not of your making.

After all, you sent down a ball to try and get a wicket legitimately, as you always have; little did you know that it would result in the loss of a life; nor did you ever imagine that a sport that has given you so much joy would some day leave you on the brink of psychological collapse.

An accident

I don’t know what your learned counsellors told you. But this much is true: it was quite simply an accident, as are some of the worst and the best things in life. It is in coming to terms with this fact that your courage would be tested.

If the ball had climbed an inch higher or moved a shade wider, the world would be a different place for you today — as it would be for all of us, as cricket lovers. It was the rarest of rare accidents that cost Hughes his life and you just happened to be at the wrong end of one of life’s devilish deals.

It would be naïve to suggest that you should just shrug and move on; if only a cultured gentleman like you could do that, a lot of psychiatrists would go out of business, and the world would be even more of a nightmarish place.

You have to live with it for the rest of your life. But do live in the knowledge that Hughes himself would have had nothing against you if he had had the good fortune to recover from the emergency surgery. He would have wanted you to continue playing.

How can a person make sense of something that lies beyond all conventional powers of explanation, you might ask. After all, you chose to play a sport — and one of the most culturally sophisticated ones at that. And you might not have killed a fly in your life.


Yes, it is the worst place to be, mentally, for a genial, compassionate young man like you. Why me, you might ask.

But that’s life Sean. There are no answers for certain questions, except that much of life is down to sheer chance. And viewed from this standpoint, life does indeed seem absurd.

“In the consciousness of the truth he has perceived, man now sees everywhere only the awfulness or the absurdity of existence and loathing seizes him,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche.

The German philosopher was on to something, surely. But when you look too deep into the void, you are more likely than not to be consumed by it. The great thinker’s mind disintegrated towards the end of his life.

But take heart, Sean. We can, and we must, find meaning in absurdity if we are to make sense of life in such moments.

We have to mine the absurd for meaning, as the French existentialist author Albert Camus did. “Basically at the very bottom of life, which seduces us all, there is only absurdity, and more absurdity. And may be that’s what gives us our joy for living, for the only thing that can defeat absurdity is lucidity,” wrote Camus.

I know it might be extremely tough for you to find a lucid moment right now; but believe me Sean, everything passes.

As utterly and hopelessly shattered as you might be now, just remember that the living will have to keep on living, no matter how unfair life is.

If it’s any consolation, let me tell you that you were in no way ‘responsible’ for what happened on the field. You did not kill anyone; circumstances did — circumstances beyond your control.

I wish I could just wish away your sense of guilt; but I know that nobody can do that. But what is certain is that you will emerge stronger from the crisis you are now in.

Good luck, mate.

Nirmal Shekar

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Printable version | Nov 21, 2019 1:22:57 PM |

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