Tuesday night we had no hockey practice. With a championship won and spring upon us, the long nights and early mornings at the rink have come to a pause. We have left the hockey season behind.
Once upon a time, there was a boy who didn’t know how to stay on-sides and who was tentative on the ice. Now there is a hockey player who is aggressive but does not cross the blue line without the puck, who passes with precision. In between was a coach who praised and encouraged and sat and taught and quietly smiled when he succeeded, who would tap him on his helmet when he got off the ice.
I opened the fridge at dinner time and realized there was nothing there. I had long since stopped cooking on Tuesday. For the last five or months we had rushed right from school to the rink, done homework at a table in the diner and after practice, ate our dinner with the team at the tiny diner. The boys would take over the booths, then dash to spend allowances at the arcade or shoot neon bouncey balls around with their sticks while we adults lingered at the counter. I give up and order pizza. I will have to shop for dinner tomorrow.
Once upon a time was a boy, all alone, who stepped onto an ice sheet full of strangers with head bowed, wondering if he would be accepted. Now there is a hockey player, who bursts through the locker room door with his head held high. In between was a kid with a hot dog in one hand, a goalie stick tucked precariously under his other, who pushed his way into a booth with the new kid Max. In between was another kid who knelt at his side when he was down, another who taught him to play the games at the arcade, the boy who always told him something positive about his play and one who told him that his mother was “the source of his greatest strength”.
On my coffee table is a stack of CDs with photos I have taken, labeled for each boy who face appears on the disc. I am shipping copies of my photos off to all the parents this week. Each of these boys tugs at my heart in different ways–it might be his soulful wisdom, his bouyant energy, his fierce loyalty, his joyfulness, his drive, but each boy carried a gift with him into the locker room, a gift I watched blossom with awe. I know each of their numbers by heart and have called their names over and over again out loud. Their parents too stick with me, and I think of them throughout the day, wondering when the adoption they have been dreaming about will come through, and praying that they stay safe while they fight that big fire, wondering if they will stay warm on this cold cold day while they work outside. Thinking about the miracles of family life that unfold in each home each day.
Once upon a time was a woman, who felt so small in this huge rink with its activity and the crush of strangers, who felt shy in the tiny locker room, tripping over other people’s bags. Now there is a hockey mom who walks into the rink with open arms and ready to wrap around someone in a hug, who holds her breath when any child has fallen, who tells the boys their stats while she tells them to pick up their clothes. In between were skates to be tied, equipment to be helped into, quarters to be loaned, juice boxes to be passed, penalty boxes to be guarded, scoresheets to be filled out, clocks to be run and photos to be taken. Thousands of tiny inconsequential moments that strung together, changed everything.
The championship trophy sits on our mantel, a central place of honor. Hockey was the center of our schedule for so many months, a pulse that pushed us through the darkest days of winter, so it seems only fitting. The golden trophy reminds us of what 15 boys can do when they learn how to work together, and how interconnected they all are but it also reminds us that this season was once magical but is now passed, the battle won, the trophy gained.
After a weekend of togetherness and parties, it was at last time to leave on Sunday, without any firm plans of when we would see each other again. No games on the schedule, no practices to make, the last party was over. Max stepped onto the driveway of his coach’s house and in the safety of the darkness collapsed against me and started to sob, saddened that this wonderous journey had come to its end. I held him, practically carrying his big boy body to the car, biting back my own tears for his sake. “I know baby…I know.” It was all I can say, it is all I can say.
A wise teacher once told me that nothing is ever gained or lost, it is only transformed. As I manage my own grief over the loss of such a sweet adventure, I repeat this wisdom over and over. Not lost, just transformed. Not lost, just transformed. Truth is it has always been transforming, always changing. The beginnings and endings are sometimes clearly marked with ceremonies and trophies and parties, but often they are blurred and more subtle. We have all been transformed all season by love: a love of hockey, of our children, of coffee at 6:30 am, of quiet time with our kids in the car, of pizza and hot dogs and pancakes, of arcade games and stories, and and lastly of each other. That was the magic we all felt. That transformative, alchemical love.
As winter shifted into spring, the spring will give way again to a hot summer and the pool and grills. We will run around in sunshine instead of huddling in the cold rink. Some will fade away, others will join.
And we will not be lost, not at all, just transformed. Over and over again.