This Sunday, like every Sunday, Max will have a hockey game.
When he started with this team in October he knew not one kid. Most of the kids were at least one year older and two grades ahead in school. They came from all over our very large county–and the team ranged from kids who were farm kids to kids like Max who consider themselves city kids. Many of the kids knew each other from years of playing hockey together but this was Max’s first year on an official team.
He felt the outsider in every way, searching desperately for one kid–just one–he could eventually call friend. The first few practices he felt so lonely and out of place. Me too. While I am a pretty social gal, I carried a lot of angst around hanging out with the people who were not my people–you know, the artsy, lefty types from my neck of the woods, the ones I call my tribe. If I am honest, the other parts of the county make me a bit…well…nervous. What would we have in common, I thought?
Yet here we are in January and Max is in love with his team. Here we are in January and I am looking forward to the time I spend with those parents, the ones I thought were so different from me. Here we are in January and when we walk through the doors of the Iceplex, it feels a little like coming home.
Max and I we spend countless hours at the rink. Each week it seems that practice stretched longer and longer as the boys grab a snack at the grill and head to the arcade, drinking in each other’s company in the easy way that boys can.
And we parents too, are silently coming together, drawn together like ships in a tiny harbor. His coach recently pointed out that we log 4 hours a week together in a very small space between practices, games, and dressing and undressing the boys. We pick up each other’s hats and move each others things, manipulating our way around small spaces. Many of those hours are in the wee morning and many more in that frantic post-work time slot when we (or at least I am) at our most vulnerable parenting place when misplaced sticks or left behind equipment can send even the most patient of parents into a fit. And then there are the hours we spend lingering, in the grill, in the arcade, observing the growing bond between the boys, each of us feeling our hearts swell a bit as we see them make something out of nothing. To be honest, many days we may speak very little to one another. But that seems to matter not a bit. I sink into their presence like a warm bath. Without knowing anything they have become familiar to me, the smell of an old church, holy and ancient.
Max was smashed in the face at this last game. An opposing player hit him in the face with his stick and knocked him to the ice. As he lay on the ground, sobbing and indignant, 12 players dropped to a knee and waited as though they were one, connected by an unspoken code of team. And in the stands, 12 hearts stopped beating until he rose up and skated to the bench with his coach, connected we were by our common experience of loving these boys and worrying about the crash of body against boards, every time any of one of them goes tumbling. As I wandered to the bench to check, 12 hands reached out to touch my shoulder. “I know” each hand seemed to whisper.
This is how tribe is built. Not through grand visions and plans and mission statements but through the simple act of going about life together, side by side. Breathing in each others presence, as simple as that. Doing the chores, no matter our moods or state of wakefulness. Tying skates and distributing juice boxes, with kindness and an awareness that every boy, every parent, is needed to make this thing go, each one of us, no matter who we are outside the rink, there matters. Organizing equipment and running clocks with the simple kindness that comes from simply accepting, “Oh–there you are.” No story, just you. And that awareness, that acceptance–that my friends is love.
I have felt so lucky to have found my chosen family here in my neighborhood, the ones I call my tribe. The families we camp with and dine with, the ones who I love so deeply and profoundly, who know me so well, with whom my heart cracks open. The ones who share my political views and parenting values and don’t mind my beat up broken down car, who look past my mess and old furniture and clutter to see my spacious heart. The ones whose homes I retire to when all feels lost, or maybe just the electricity is off. Each one of them feels handpicked and special and deliberately inserted into my life. To have found them feels like a miracle, an impossible surprise of utter goodness.
And yet, I am beginning to see that this gift is not a requirement for tribe to really bloom. Our connectedness is a given. Its our separation that is the illusion. Home is any place where we are side by side pulling our weight. We only need to look up and see the person next to us, doing what we are doing to realize our shared humanity, to feel in the company of strangers, completely at home.