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Operatic beauty of Brazilian soccer as uplifting as ever in this World Cup

Chris Jones is in Qatar covering the men’s World Cup for CBC Sports.

In the historic centre of the steamy, sprawling Brazilian city of Manaus, there is the unlikeliest sanctuary: the Teatro Amazonas, an opera house.

Its construction began in 1884, at the dizzy heights of a rubber boom. It took 12 years to complete. A wonderfully named Italian architect, Celestial Sacardim, oversaw its construction. He was a madman, and he made it his mission to bring Italian high culture to the jungle.

The opera house has hand-painted ceiling panels, polished marble floors, and 200 Italian chandeliers, each of which was shipped in a crate across the Atlantic Ocean, ferried up the Amazon, and lit inside a cathedral to music.

I went to that opera house in 2014, when Brazil hosted the men’s World Cup. Italy and England were playing in Manaus for some inexplicable reason. The first time I went inside, I was by myself. It was a lovely, strange place anyway, but given the heat and the chaos outside, it felt like Heaven.

The next morning, I met an American friend who was in the throes of deep grief. Days before the World Cup, his father was killed in a motorcycle accident. He decided to come to Brazil, thinking that it might help him work through some things, but his wife was worried. She asked me to keep an eye out for him.

I took him to the opera house. Unlike my first visit, when it was otherwise empty, my friend and I came upon the entire opera company, in their street clothes, on stage rehearsing. Nobody seemed to mind us, so we took up residency in one of the ancient boxes, wrapped in red velvet.

England fans pose in front of the Teatro Amazonas opera house in Manaus, Brazil during the 2014 men’s World Cup. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Grief is a spectrum

My friend and I sat there together, and the entire building filled with the most gorgeous sound. We sat there for the longest time. My friend is quiet, low-key, and wry — I like him very much — and not the kind of person to talk about his feelings. We just sat there and listened, but I have no doubt from the look on his face that he was in the company of his dad.

Tonight, in Doha, I thought about my friend and our time in the opera house when I went to see Brazil play Switzerland at Stadium 974, another unlikely monument to madness.

Grief is a spectrum. Some losses are unspeakable, or close to it. They are as damaging as blunt-force trauma. Some are more like regrets, and others are disappointments, and there are however many other words we use to describe the times in our lives that make us lie awake at night, wishing them away.

I was sad on Sunday night, watching Canada get dismantled by Croatia. It would be too much to describe my feelings as grief — it would be insulting to people who are suffering from true grief. I’ve experienced enough heartbreak to know what real heartbreak is.

But I love soccer, and I have waited a long time to see the Canadian men play in a World Cup. I was 12 when they last did, and today I am 48.

I am not the same person I was. If losses have different scales, what they have in common is their permanence. When you have lived long enough, you carry your defeats around with you, like pain from an old wound. You can never shed them. All you can do is try to get to a place where you feel them a little less deeply, a little less often.

WATCH | Soccer North — Canada vs. Croatia post-match reaction show:

Canada vs. Croatia post-match reaction show

Watch as Andi Petrillo and guests take a look at the Canada vs. Croatia game at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

One way to do that is to seek out life’s respites and antidotes. You duck inside an opera house, and you happen to stumble upon strangers singing their lungs out, as though in honour of your lost father, for nobody but you.

Soccer is opera to me. The way the Brazilians play it, it’s the aria. In the 83rd minute, Casemiro struck a half-volley so sweetly, with a connection so pure, the only part of Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer that moved was his head, turning to watch the ball slice past him into the net. 

That single moment of brilliance was all the Brazilians needed to win, 1-0.

It was all I needed, too. For a few blissful seconds after I saw that goal, I remembered some things that were nice for me to remember, and I forgot some things I’d rather forget. 

That hard truth is, every time you fall in love, you’re taking a chance. Maybe you won’t be loved back. Maybe you will be, but not always, or not forever.

You can protect your heart by making it unavailable to anyone or anything outside of yourself. Or you can choose to leave yourself open to every emotion human existence has to offer.

The risk is the greatest sorrow.

The reward is joy. The reward is beauty. The reward is hope.

Watch Soccer North live immediately following each of Canada’s games on CBC Gem, and the CBC Sports YouTube channel

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