Last week, I wrote about my son’s high school basketball senior night, and I want to tell you that I was absolutely there, fully present and engaged. I wrote that there were 3 games left, so while it was the last home game, he still had games to play. The final game was last night. The last high school basketball game he will ever play.
It was wonderful. And it was awful. The Angel and I cried in the stands with a minute on the clock as the game reached its climax; the bad guys won on a basket with 9 seconds left. It was always going to take 2 hands (at least) to hold all of the flooding emotions with the care & respect they deserve. He’s learned so many lessons on the basketball court that will serve him well every day forward. And so did I.
Sports are important for lots of reasons, the least of them being the final score. I hope in 20 years, when he looks back, he is satisfied and carrying few regrets. My knees crack, my back hurts, I can’t sleep in certain positions because of my aching shoulders, and wouldn’t change a thing. I had dreams of being a Major League Baseball player, gave all I had through high school and college, and when I finally resigned to the fact that I simply wasn’t good enough (almost no one is), peace was all that remained. I loved all of it. Of course I wish I had enjoyed it more in moments, I wish I hadn’t carried losses for quite so long, I wish I had some more perspective. But those wishes are small and quiet, and when I sleep at night, I rest well (as long as it’s not in certain positions.) I hope he does, too.
The team we played last night was evenly matched, a solid rivalry. The gym is small and very, very noisy. I saw Billy Idol play at The Electric Factory in Philadelphia, and have not been the same since. When my family has to repeat themselves, they have Billy Idol to thank. This was not that, not soul rattling, but as far as high school basketball games go, it went to 11. Before games nowadays (do I sound like everyone’s dad?) they read a ridiculous sportsmanship pledge that no one listens to and even less follow. They say something along the lines of “cheer for your team, not against the other team,” and it’s all any of us can do to stifle our laughter. This school (Pequea Valley, the name has not been changed to protect the guilty) and their student section did not adhere. The most egregious offense was after the game, when a skinny underclassman, hyped up on his own insecurity, aggressively screamed in our players faces as they exited the court, almost following them into the locker room. I think the pre-game nonsense should be cut, it does nothing but draw attention to the inadequacy of the adults in the room. If we’re not going to follow through on the threat, we probably shouldn’t make it, right? If we don’t believe what we’re saying, everybody knows, and it feels disingenuous and embarrassing.
That last paragraph was a bit of a soap box, but this is a space where I work out what it means to live a life of love, what it means to live a beautiful life, and that requires processing. What you get here, if nothing else, is honesty. Maybe it’s garden variety narcissism to detail your own journey out loud, but I’m convinced it’s much more than that. When you listen to songs you love and read books & watch movies that make an impact, they are strikingly specific (Taylor Swift wrote a song about actually breaking up with John Mayer, John Lennon cried out for Help from inside his own deep despair), and in that specificity, they become universal.
I write about high school sports and who cares about high school sports? It’s simply a context for growth, adversity, effort, failure, and we all have that, no matter what the context is. I imagine no one particularly cares about my thoughts on some silly pledge of platitudes, but we all know hypocrisy and carefully crafted words that mean nothing at all, right? My heart swells and breaks as my boy becomes, and you totally understand 2 (or 2,000) hands. The Dallas Cowboys are my team, sadly, and that’s completely irrational – maybe yours isn’t a largely irrelevant football team, but we all have irrational attachments. We are in this together, far more similar than different.
One last thing. When a couple gets married, they honestly believe they will always feel the way they felt as they say “I do” every moment of every day. Then, a month, or 6 months, later, they look across the table and maybe don’t like that person very much, the love is gone, they’re broken, maybe they made a huge mistake, the marriage is over. And they hurt in isolation, hopeless. BUT if they would just reach out to the couple that’s been married for 30 years, and honestly share their fears, they’d hear that it’s everyone’s experience. It’s all natural and expected, nobody’s broken, just do the dishes, talk kindly, hold hands and lay like spoons when you go to bed.
It’s not narcissism or self-import, it’s the very human desire for connection and community. We are alive and we are here, now, sharing basketball games and our lives together.