Heat Stroke or Awkwardly Timed Philosophical Enlightenment?
Today I watched a dozen young girls play soccer in the oppressive heat of mid-day, laughing, screaming, running, chasing down dreams, and I sat there sweating and watched as Zoey wandered closer and closer, enthralled by the big girls doing what looked to both of us like something enormously fun. I smiled widely. Someday this will be Zed, maybe, hopefully. I was struck quickly curious by my sudden urge for Zoey to be something of an athlete as she grows. Where did that come from, that urge? Why is it so important to me, to anyone? The idea oiled the machinings inside of me that ask the air such answerless questions all the time. The kind of questions that are typically rewarded with no resolution of any kind.
Of course, the obvious answer is because you yourself laughed, screamed, ran, and chased down dreams, but that's not what fuels these deep, desperate desires for someone who just may have markedly different dreams than your own. I started to wonder what sports were for in the first place? I thought of my nephew Reece, and his rapid development into a pretty impressive, and oft times dangerous, lacrosse player. He's ten years old and just beginning to learn the subtleties of his body in space, how to use what a decade and genetics have given him, and how that interacts with the same discoveries amongst his peers. He's not a little boy playing lacrosse anymore. He's a lacrosse player. I get such strange joy from watching him play, from watching his father and an old, good friend, coach him into this thing that is no longer just a young boy trying to understand his connection to a game, but rather a young man oddly becoming defined by that game. He is a lacrosse player, but is he? Isn't he just a kid playing a game? I don't understand it, but I tried terribly hard to this afternoon as I watched twelve young women run, scream, laugh and dream.
What began as a simple question began and ended in the time it took for those young women to back and forth their way to the end of the game under that hot July sun. It started and ended all while I was standing there and I thought, this is it, this is our mythology, the awkward and inspiring compression of everything that we are. This is how some of us make meaning, by asking the kinds of questions of ourselves and others that only soccer pitches and lacrosse fields and floors can answer. What's at stake? What does it mean to win? What does it mean to lose? How good are they? How good are we? Is there such a thing as fate? Is there such a thing as destiny? As luck? Is there such a thing as God, and is God on our side? Or theirs? Either way, how can that be?
I think, how can chance embrace any kind of strategy? How can we attribute so much weight to something so seemingly weightless? What is luck? Where does it go when it leaves? Why does it affix itself to people or places, and how can it be with you for one moment and against you in the next? Exactly what is it that happens when we win, or what is it when we lose? Does it even matter? Did someone win? Or did someone else lose? Can something so arbitrary be considered yours or mine, exclusively? Is this really something that we need to be talking about? How can we possibly feel as though we have any control over the intersection of twelve people, over the impossible vagaries of a playing surface, of a bounce?
So what's the lesson in all of this effort? Patience? Persistence? Commitment? Love? Dominance? Ego? Eat your vegetables? What terrible flood of cliché do all of these games, do all of these athletes unleash? Because at the end of it all, there's no answer. There's only that brushstroke of random human order that paints us all, and a long unanswerable pile of questions that lead back to standing in a park watching girls play soccer, laughing, screaming, running, and chasing down dreams, or of watching ten year old boys doing very much the same. I suppose it crumbles down to the notion that everything human begins somewhere and ends somewhere and in between is our unlikely, and impossible joy and sorrow. In between is crammed full of unanswerable questions. What are sports for? Why do I hope Zo plays, and laughs, screams, runs, and chases down her dreams? It's this. It's exactly this...this humbling question that stirs something so seamless in us as a thought, or a smile? It's not because of what the game did for us. It's because of what we hope it does for them. It's a metaphor for something, probably a lot of things, but maybe at it's most elemental it not a metaphor for anything. It's just living. It's just filling that in-between with questions that we'll never figure out.
Today I watched a dozen young girls playing soccer and I nearly swooned with the desire to watch my own daughter do the same...to figure it all out... for herself, with her own body, and her own joys and disappointments, with her own ideas, and understandings and mis-understandings. That's what it's all for I suppose. It's to remind us that in the end we can find our own meaning, our own joy, and the oil for our own inner machinings with something as simple as a ball.
I hope she chooses to play, and I hope that she finds answers to some of the questions that it all poses, but mostly I hope she just gets to laugh, scream, run, and dream.