There's a reason the Tom Sawyer fantasy is so seductive. Surprisingly, it's not because the movie Tom and Huck was my first exposure, as a pubescent boy, to Rachel Leigh Cook. It's because there's a natural curiosity about whether you'll be missed when you're gone, and there's only one way to know for sure.
If you just go away, then come back, and people tell you they miss you, you'll never be 100 percent certain that they're not lying to you to avoid hurting your feelings. ("Lying to people to avoid hurting their feelings" is most of what we do to each other anymore.) But actually dying (or disappearing permanently through other means) brings with it the obvious handicap of not being able to see how people react to your absence at all.
The only way to know for sure if you'll be missed when you're gone is to surreptitiously observe those you've left behind, to attend your own funeral in so many words. Michael Carter-Williams will be able to do that tonight.
That's one of the amazing things about sports, the ability to attend your own funeral, not just once but over and over again. You get to reappraise not only the life you're leading now but your feelings about the life you left behind--"Do they miss me?" you might ask yourself. "Was I really as unhappy then as I thought I was?" If an athlete were so inclined, he could spend every waking moment contemplating counterfactuals, paralyzed in equal measures by what has been and what will never come to be, as the past and the hypothetical ensare and consume him the way a puya chilensis consumes a sheep.
For now, though, Carter-Williams appears to have been freed from the torment of having to carry a team while being possessed neither of the ability nor the external assistance to win at the NBA level. He's been returned to his home planet, one populated by tall men with long arms like himself, where he'll grow under the tutelage of a man, Jason Kidd, who was once himself a ball-dominant point guard who couldn't shoot and overcame that handicap to become one of the greatest players the game has ever seen. He'll have weapons to pass to and, in all likelihood, his first trip to
I don't know if Carter-Williams is happy to be gone, or if he's excited to land in Milwaukee, or if he'll look back on his time in Philadelphia with regret, or how strongly he holds these feelings if he holds them at all. Maybe he doesn't even know yet.
What I do know is that tonight, Michael Carter-Williams will have the ability to look back into the abyss, to see his own worth, to know whether he's missed. It's an ability so few of us will have, and one we should have the courage to envy.