Ever since I was a wee child I have a thing for gnomes. Not the ceramic kinds that live in British gardens but the magical kind that ride on birds and build houses in trees. I spent almost 3 years of my life (between the ages of 8 and 11) tromping through the woods with field journals proving the existence of these little woodland creatures. Gnomes, it seemed to me, lived in a simple but abundant world full of comfort and love and nature and goodness. I wanted to live in that world. Proving their existence meant that I too could live in such richness. Close to the earth, with everything I need at my fingertips.
While I think about gnomes often, it is rare that other people do. So I had to pause when I saw the email from the Washington Capitals of all people advertising a “Nicklas Backstrom Gnome Giveway”. Normally I delete those emails from the Caps. Being in school now we have no budget for hockey tickets and I don’t like to be tempted. But I was curious. I mean, who makes gnomes that look like hockey players? I opened the email to see what it was about.
Nicklas Backstrom is Max’s favorite hockey player. Max loves the way Nicky passes and moves the puck around, elegantly setting up plays. When he is on his game it can be a little like watching the ballet.
Max said, “Mom, when the Universe combines my favorite hockey player and your favorite magical creature it must be a sign”. Or maybe a wonderful excuse to throw budgets and concerns about school nights spent in the city to the wind and instead do something joyful and spontaneous. Perhaps it was the gnomes calling us, but we miraculously found last minute tickets for a cheap(ish) price we haven’t seen in years. Yes–the tickets were high up in the rafters but we were going to see a hockey game!
Max and I rode the metro down to the game with delight. This unexpected hockey game, these wonderful little gnome dolls we would get at the door, it all felt like such a luxury, a miracle. We were royalty headed to that game, rich and carefree. We got to the game really early so that we could be among the first through the gates, collected our gnomes and headed down to glass to watch warm-ups. It’s such a treat, especially when our seats are in the uppermost tier to get down to watch the players so close up. What a guilty pleasure to be so close to such speed. We hung out behind the goal while they warmed, flinching as the pucks hit the glass, marveling at the strength and speed of the players. It was already a full night of juicy goodness by the time the whistle blew ending warm ups and the ushers moved us out into the hallway. How could it possibly get better?
We got in line to to ride the escalators up to the top tier to our seats so high in the stands. “Mom,” Max laughed. “Let’s act really crazy so we can win the Ameritel Move of the Game”. That’s a contest where the spunkiest of fans in the Upper Tier win tickets to move down to the the Lower Level. “OK” I giggled with enthusiasm. “Let’s get our silly on!”
As we turned the corner, about to step on the escalator, a stranger in the crowd touched my sleeve. “Are you on your way up to the 400s? ” he asked. And then, just like that, he handed me his tickets. “Take these for you and your son. They are great seats”. He was invited up to a meeting on the club level and didn’t want his tickets to go to waste. He wanted someone to enjoy them. He picked us. And suddenly we were rink side–just rows away from the glass.
“MOM…We just won the Move of the Game” Max said. “Not the Ameritel Move of the Game but God’s Move of the Game.”
Tears filled my eyes. God’s Move of the Game. So simple. Be joyful. And everything moves.
It is so easy to believe we live in a world of scarcity. In a world were there is not enough–enough time, enough money, enough love and support. It is so easy to believe that we live in a world where comfort and joy are things that are earned through hard work and struggle. Everything about the way our culture is set up seems to suggest it.
And yet, as a child, tromping through the mud searching for tiny footprints I learned that joy and goodness were right outside in my backyard. The gnomes’ world of abundance and simple treasures was always accessible–it was simply a matter of stepping into it. I could get lost for hours in that kind of abundance. And then I grew up.
It is a relatively new practice for me to learn to see abundance everywhere–to let go of my stories about struggle and open my eyes to goodness that arrives when we show up and do our work (whatever our work may be) with pure joy. To see the spontaneous meetings with friends as gifts. To see cancelled plans as a chance to finally catch up on a long neglected project.
Truth is Max and I would have had the night of our life sitting up high in the 400s. We would have screamed for the Caps, cheered their goals and mourned their loss with the same level of fury and abandon. We had already felt like we had won. And that I think is the secret.
Something from my childhood was calling to me this night. A message bubbling up–From the gnomes…From God…From the kindess of strangers and my own wise heart. A metaphor perhaps reinforcing this practice.
We live in abundance. Already. Right now. Not tomorrow when the house is cleaned and the homework is done. Not next year when the bills are paid. Not 10 years from now when my practice is busy and full. But now. Now. Now.
Open your eyes and step into it. The view is amazing.
Dear Jay Beagle–
You most likely don’t remember him, but he remembers meeting you.
The first time he met you was at an arena in Newark. Max and I traveled up to New Jersey to see the Caps play on the road. We made the trip up and back in one night because Max was playing in his championship hockey game the next day. You were on the ice warming up before the game and my little guy had wormed his way into a restricted section to watch–a lone Caps fan in a sea of Devils fans. He banged on the glass and when he thought you were looking at him he told you, so earnestly, about the championship. Maybe you heard him, or maybe you just saw that he desperately wanted to tell you something. You flipped him a puck, pointing to make sure all the New Jersey fans knew exactly where you meant it to go. Max carried that puck in his hockey bag the next day for luck. They won. That puck now sits on our mantel and Max tells the story over and over.
Fast forward to this past Wednesday. Thanks to a magical gift, Max and I had tickets to see the Caps play your rivals the Penguins. Our tickets were right behind your bench, right on the tunnel that led to the ice. As you all marched out onto the ice, so many of your teammates were doing what they do to get ready, getting their head in the game, eyes intensely focused forward, seeing nothing but the ice, blocking out the arena and making only space for the game. It was thrilling simply to be so close. Yet everytime you came out, (or for that matter went back into the locker room), you, Jay Beagle, you high-fived my boy, or bonked him on the head with your stick. Every time you smiled at him. All eight times. Yup. We were counting.
You may not think it was that big a deal Jay Beagle but I am saying that it is. For you did something magical. You, with all your NHL hero status, you took a minute to with your eyes, your hands, your smile to see an individual in a thumping, throbbing crowd. You saw him there with his face all painted red and his sign and his mardi gras beads. And then, with a simple gesture you told him over and over that he mattered. You let him know that his energy, his presence, his excitement meant something to the world, that it changed things. And with that gesture you changed the world. For Max. For me. For every little boy who wants to grow up to be like you one day.
You are a very young man Jay Beagle, just 26 years old. You don’t make nearly what your superstar teammates make. And yet you are wise beyond your years and richer than those whose salary dwarfs yours. You know something that many old men do not. You know that the most important gift you can give is your presence, your acknowledgment. You know that seeing is indeed everything. If I was your mother, I would be very very proud of you, not for your NHL contract but for who you touch now in that role. I would be so proud of how you noticed that little boy who just wanted to touch your hand.
Jay Beagle, thank you. As a hockey mom, I hope all those little boys reaching out their hands across the years, to touch you, to touch the possibility that they too might one day play on the big ice rinks, I hope they all grow up to be wise like you.
Tuesday nights are rink nights. After hockey practice I untie Max’s skates and while he is undressing get in line at the grill at the rink to order our dinner. Its always the same–a piece of pizza and a red gatorade for him, chicken and fries and a small coke for me. And his friend D. is always right behind me with a $20 dollar bill and his order: two hot dogs, a coke and a venti skim cappuccino for his dad. He leaves a nice tip for the grill guys. I like that about this kid. I always let him cut me in line because I like that so much.
One by one the 9 and 10 year old boys piling in to the booth next time mine where I sit with my computer. Dads are allowed to hover nearby but this mom needs to stay at a bit of a distance at least one booth away. This is male territory. They laugh and tell stories and quote movies and run around turning the grill into a basketball arena. No one seems to care as these cubs tumble about. Everyone seems to acknowledge that these young men are the princes here. And when their dinner is finished they each dig for pocket change and head for the rink’s arcade.
It brings such heady joy, this ritual of ours. The air is thick with silly boy joy. I can’t help but smile, reveling in the simple sweetness even as I hang back–a witness. I bring my camera because I want to capture its sweetness, so that I can remember that this is our life. Our life is a string of moments like these–moments of connection and friendship and learning and laughter.
Our life is also tears in the locker room and homework not yet done. Its it chores and messy cars and spilled milk and a frantic desperate gymnastics to arrive at school and work on time. It is forgotten lunches and major disappointments and sick days when I have to do the conference call anyway and he thinks that means that I don’t want him with me at work. But it is a steady stream of nights like this when love is a piece of pizza and a handful of quarters and your buddies all around.
Hockey is now over. I started to write this post sometime in January I think when it felt as though that rhythm of our life would never end, when I was awakening to the joy that that slog to the rink and the late nights and early mornings offered. But it has ended. All things shift and so we are spending our Tuesdays doing homework and setting up tents and getting the laundry done. We spend our weekends cleaning up the house and the yard, getting ready for baseball and swimming, plotting sleepovers and catching up with our our life locally.
I wanted to hold onto the sweetness I discovered this winter so dearly. I spent many tortured minutes second guessing my decision not to put Max in spring league this year. I knew our schedule would not abide it but I wanted so badly to not let it go.
And that is precisely why I held firm. My resistance to letting the season shift and change is why I decided we wouldn’t. I needed to practice letting things evolve naturally. I knew that holding on so tightly would not serve. Pushing ourselves to keep it going–just to keep it going felt wrong and counter to the easy way that hockey unfolded for us this year. As hard as it was to let go of something beautiful I know I needed to just to give space for more sweetness to be born. I want to teach Max how goodness comes into our life and how we can’t grasp at it like sand but instead need to let it go, transform, develop–that goodness is abundant and will flow differently, never stopping but always changing, always changing.
Not going to the rink means I need to call those families that I loved and miss seeing and show up at their house to eat spicy red kidney beans and brown rice. It means plotting sleep overs and reunions at stick n pucks. It means sending pictures in the mail and yes it means piling into the car and heading to the rink with the boys to watch the dads’ game and to cheer loudly for the men who had become so dear. We can do that now that we have the time. Creating the open space opens doors to new goodness.
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.
Sometimes it is easy to forget who is underneath these pads. Once dressed, they emerge from the locker room with a swagger that suggests gladiators, warriors heading off to battle. But then, the game over, sweaty and stripped down, their sweetness emerges again, those cheeks, that shy gait, the silly jokes, the awkward way they talk about girls.
They are standing on a bridge between boyhood and manhood. They try on toughness along with their pads and then leave it in the locker room, trading it for bubble gum and hockey cards and bright neon green bouncy balls. Hockey gives them a space where they can walk easily between these worlds, at once little boy and tough man, protector.
Max’s hockey team, The Ice Warriors, has had an amazing season which has taught both of us a tremendous amount and offered us many gifts. On Saturday they will be playing in the championship game against a team that has become their arch -rivals: the Penguins to their Capitals, the Yankees to their Redsox, the Ravens to their Steelers, the Jets to their Patriots, the Kiwis to their Kangaroos…you get the point. Calling on all Soul Sisters to send positive energy our way…
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.
It had to start here. In the city of brotherly love, where I first learned to love this game. Well, technically to be accurate, I learned to love the game in a New Jersey suburb, sprawled out on the floor, watching a team with my very big kid neighbor John and my mother who would tell me, “Only God saves more than Bernie Parent”
It had to start here in the city of brotherly love, because my brother does love this team so. He loves them because he was born here or at least born nearby. He loves them because he spent so many of his highschool and college years here too.
It had to start here, because there is no other team that Max and I love to hate more than the Philadelphia Flyers. It started with my childhood realization that the “Broad Street Bullies” were just that–bullies. It intensified when these Flyers knocked our beloved Caps out of the playoffs in overtime in game 7 in 2008.
We had to start here because here is in fact, where it all started.
So, after Max’s karate on Saturday, we threw our bags in the car, hooked up the i-pod to the car stereo and set off across a frozen tundra called I-95 to make a trek north to Philadelphia for our first stop on the “Great Hockey Road Trip”. We were going to see the Flyers play Tampa Bay Lightening.
To be honest, neither Max nor I were excited to see the Flyers play the Bolts. Really, ‘ what we wanted more than anything was to kick off our trip by watching our boys in Red squash those Flyers. We wanted to stand proud and red and feel the wrath of Philly fans as our guys scored goal after goal and we chanted C-A-P-S…Caps, Caps, Caps. But, as luck would have it, we had a conflict every time those Caps played Philadelphia and after a bit of discussion we decided the point WAS to see the Flyers at home and the tickets were cheap and why not? Sometimes the only way forward is just to go.
So go we did. I booked us a hotel room in walking distance to the mighty Wachovia Center, there on Broad Street, next to the old Spectrum. I filled our itinerary with plans to visit the Franklin Institute, the Mummer’s Museum, other places from my childhood. But as we pulled into South Philly, Max had a request. “Mom–can we make this trip all about the game and skip that other stuff?” It was as though he had read my mind. A late-ish start combined with an agenda that was way overpacked was beginning to stress me out. The other wonders of Philadelphia could keep for a warm summer getaway. This wintery weekend was about one thing–hockey–and we would stay in South Philly.
To top it off, Max is at an age where nothing is more exciting than a hotel room. Even a shabby one like this Holiday Inn. A giant bed that faces a TV with movies on demand. Pure bliss to this 8 year old. So we cuddled up and rented Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs while we practiced our Tampa Bay chants and looked at the hotel restaurant menu.
We started to walk over to the arena at 5:30. The wind was bitter cold, numbed our legs and stung our ears. But every block held a wonder. All of Philadelphia’s sports teams play in this South Philly neighborhood–it is a big playground of gigantic playing fields and parking lots. The walk to Wachovia took us past Citizen’s Bank Baseball Field, Lincoln Financial Field where the Eagles play, the old Spectrum.
Max had heard stories about Flyer fans. The legends told of rough and tumble men who would throw beer at you for routing on the away team. He wrestled about whether he would stand and scream his support when Tampa Bay scored or whether he would just cheer from his seat. He decided to stand and made a plan for how he would react when the inevitable barage of beer and hotdogs rained down on him. He told me he would stand and face the perpetrators with his arms spread out and yell…”Show some class will you–I hate the Rangers too!” He was in for a full experience of Philly fans he explained.
We were not disappointed. When we took our seats we found ourselves surrounded by die hards. Two grizzly season ticket holders to our right, a women’s hockey team behind us. In front of us was a row of 4 women who all wore signed jerseys and talked about a young prospect as though they were his family. And at last, as the game started, two huge, 20-something guys, exactly like the guys Max had heard legends about, sat to our left. They had thick accents. They carried multiple beers. They were serious about the Flyers. They started talking to us and didn’t stop. Max didn’t find them scary, as he thought he might. He found enchanting. They made him laugh. They were polite and apologized to me for swearing. They talked to Max about the players. They assumed we were all family. Before we knew it we were yucking it up with the whole lot.
And then, in the second period, Tampa Bay scored. You could hear a pin drop in the arena and so when Max jumped up and screamed, “Wahoo” our new friends noticed.
One of the women’s ice hockey team members was the only one who spoke.
Max did not experience a rain of beer or hotdogs as he imagined. He was not boo-ed. He wasn’t even treated unkindly. His new friends were simply surprised and stunned into silence. They had no idea he was supporting a different team. He was crushed though, thinking that he might disappoint them. He buried his head in my shoulder for a minute.
And then he spoke. “Mom,” he said, “Do you think maybe we should cheer for Philadelphia?” We had an emergency conference. I didn’t want him to feel pressured to switch sides for the love of strangers, even for the love of me, but on the other hand–we were in Philly and maybe this was a teachable moment about trying out new things.
“I think we should do what you want to do, sweet boy” I said, wanting to support him. But he was clearly confused. “I don’t know what to do, Mom. I want YOUR opinion.”
“Well,” I said. “On the one hand, I am proud of you for standing up even though you were all alone. That took guts. If you want to keep cheering for Tampa, I will cheer with you. On the other hand, truth is, we don’t really like Tampa. We are only cheering for them because they are NOT the Flyers. Maybe that’s a good enough reason, but you know, it might be kind of fun to try out what it feels like to be a Flyer fan. I mean…this might be our only chance. We could shift perspective and see how it feels to cheer for the orange, what it feels like to be a Philly fan here in Philadelphia. It could be good for us to see life from the other side. Just this once.”
“Well…I do like Mike Richards…” Max said. He was conflicted but intrigued. Maybe we could try it on–see the world from the perspective of the hated Flyers. We could go back tomorrow. Or maybe we would cross over into a murky world where all sides are just illusions anyway.
“You see…” he explained to his new found friends from Philly, “I am from Washington. I am a Caps fan.” They all looked a little pained but nodded. “Truth is,” he admitted boldly, “I really am not a fan of the Flyers. Especially after the 2008 playoffs.” His friends nodded sympathetically again. “But I think,” he said, “that I can be a fan just for tonight.”
Philly scored twice more that game. Max jumped up and high fived every one around us, hooted, hollered and sang. He even got beer spilled on him. He had the full Philly fan experience.
As we dashed back across the parking lot to the hotel I asked him, “What was it like to be a FLYER fan tonight?”
“You know Mom,” he said, “It wasn’t all that different. Just being a fan.”
“And does this change how you feel about the Flyers, babe?”
“Not one bit–but it changes the way I think about Flyers fans. They are nice–even if they are rowdy. I guess we are not all that different. Just fans lovin’ the game…”
At that moment I knew, every penny I spent on tickets, on the hotel, on the Mike Richards T-shirt was worth its weight in gold for the lesson of walking in someone else’s shoes…or skating in someone else’s skates.
For the last several years, it has been my New Year’s ritual. Encouraged by the lovely Jen Lemen, I pick just one word to be my anthem for the coming year. Its a word that holds in it all the boundless possibility of 365 fresh clean days ahead. Its a word to whisper to myself as I wake up. A word to help me channel what my heart needs, a touchpoint to keep it front and center.
In 2007, as I was recovering from the break-up of my marriage, my word was RENEWAL. In 2008, as I moved forward beyond that crisis my word was BLOSSOM. Last year, as I began the process of a strangely beautiful, challenging inner journey I chose the word TRUST. In all these cases, I found that the year magically delivered the lessons, experiences and opportunities that allowed me to sink into that word. These experiences did not always present as I imagined they might, but they unfolded perfectly nonetheless. My word becomes a prayer, a mantra, a device that immediately allows me to access deep wisdom and cherished dreams.
My experience with my one word has been so powerful that choosing it this year felt both thrilling and terrifying. But a word, is just that, a word. It is not magical alone. It is my awareness, my love, my action in its name that makes it so.
Nevertheless, at the end of last year, I sat in a driveway with the same friend who gave me this exercise, fretting over an appropriate choice. I told her that this year I needed to learn about ease, not the kind of ease that is associated with lying around eating chocolate while someone else cleans, but the ease that comes from grace, lack of resistance and effortless motion. I wanted to glide through the next year, instead of the “stumble stumble trip” sort of hike that many of my adventures have resembled. This is the year I want to learn to get out of my own way and see what develops when I drop my fears and excuses. This is the year I want to learn to stop assuming everything will be an uphill battle and to enjoy what unfolds effortlessly when I let me be me.
She barely missed a beat. SKATE.
I am a bit wobbly on skates. Once upon a time I knew how to glide about, but now I can be tentative and restrained at the rink. Old bones, many years away from the ice, they have all made me a bit wary. Max skates circles around me while I take frequent breaks to rest my weary ankles. I wondered if this word would really do. Sure, SKATE speaks of speed and grace and forward motion–but for others, not for me!
But then I remembered something that happened last February when Max and I went to New Hampshire. My friend Marcy loaned me her hockey equipment and we took to a frozen pond for a pick up game with our boys. I skated on hockey skates for the first time in my life. I tripped and fell and then I started to try things I hadn’t ever tried before because with all that padding, the fear had gone away. It was silly and glorious and while it didn’t transform me as a skater I learned enough that it changed how I approached the rink next time. Looking back on it, that Sunday afternoon was one of the most joyful, light and spirited days of my year. It was a day of laughter, of learning and of –yes–ease. That feeling was exactly what I was searching for this year. That bright blue Sunday afternoon feeling, when the feeling of grace and possibilty came my way, when falling stopped phasing me but instead became a teacher and trying became doing.
Skate is a word that speaks to me of letting go. Skate speaks to me of childhood, and crystal blue skies and forward motion. Skate speaks of speed and abandon and laughter.
So SKATE, I choose you as my word. I welcome you in and hope you bring a sense of ease, grace, fluidity. I know you will bring falls, and bumps, but I will remember they are teachers and like my hockey suited self, I will bounced up from them unharmed. In fact, they will make me laugh. I look forward to gliding along and seeing where we go together, you and I.
Now, you, tell me…What is your word for 2010? What do you wish to welcome in to your year?
Max looking worried as the Caps lost their two goal lead and we headed into overtime…
Last Easter weekend Max and I went out for Mexican food at our favorite restaurant. Many of our friends were away for spring break. The beach. The mountains. They had all fled while we decided to stay. Money. Work. I have to admit, I was envious.
And so my mind was on travel. I started telling Max about some amazing trips friends of ours would take this year. Vacations that had been dreamed about for years. Ari was going to China. Jackie and family to Guatemala. I wanted to start dreaming with my boy, to make a plan to go someplace amazing. I wanted to be able to sit and look at books and smile wistfully and say, “Someday…”, scrimp and save. So I asked Max, my wise old 8 year old, the question that was burning in my heart. “If you could go anywhere in the world…ANYWHERE…If you could plan your dream vacation…Where would you go?”
Max sat and contemplated this very important question. He furrowed his brow. He was uncharacteristically quiet. He looked up and said with great seriousness:
This was not the answer I had hoped for. I wanted him to say “Italy” or “India” or maybe “Vietnam”. I wanted him to speak of far away places, of the exotic, of the new.
“What?” I said. “Detroit? Really?”
“Yes mom. My dream trip. Detroit.”
“Wow Max, that’s interesting.” I tried to sound excited about Detroit, about the wonders it might hold. I was failing terribly. “Why Detroit?”
Max looked crushed. How could I, his mother, the woman who gave him life, NOT understand this dream. His voice got strained. “Because MOM…Its my second hometown.”
Now I should say for the record that, to the best of my knowledge, no member of my family (or Juan’s) hails from Detroit. We have never been there. We have never even flown through the airport with Max. But I also need to say for the record, that while Max’s heart belongs to the Washington Capitals, his second favorite team in the NHL–his favorite team in the Western Conference, is the Detroit Redwings.
I must still have looked confused, because Max’s voice rose a bit and sounded strained. “Duh…mom…the REDWINGS….”
As it turns out, all Max really wants to do is go to the arena and watch his boys play. And then, come to think of it, he wouldn’t mind seeing the Blackhawks play in Chicago or the Rangers play at Madison Square Garden.
And suddenly, the dream trip that I had been salivating about started materializing before our very eyes. Not as one fantasy vacation but as a journey, a quest. To go home, see them play at home. Over and over again. Route for the home team. At home.
“Mom,” said Max. “Lets try and get to all 30 NHL arenas before I graduate from college.” I thought about it. Fourteen years. This could be doable. And even if we didn’t do all 30 arenas, we could try. It could be an excuse to see parts of America we would never have dared go, explore cities we would have long ignored. Its an excuse to find old friends in New York, Vancouver and Minneapolis/St. Paul. To uncover old stories and tell new ones as we drive. I started to think of all my old friends, long lost, recently found who live in great hockey cities. I think about the stories I would tell Max knowing we would see them soon. Stories I might never have thought to tell. All the ways this journey would lead me home to some hidden part of myself. It could be a quest. Not for the Holy Grail, but for hometowns. And for finding our loved ones, our heros, our enemies, perfect strangers at home.
Max declared that all the previous games we had been to at the Verizon Center did not count. No–it had to start in October. And it had to start at home. So last Monday, it did. Because in the end, its really all about returning there.
“Everything cuts against the tide, when you’re by my side” -Jeff Tweedy
Tonight, after dinner, I bundled up Max and his best buddy Jake and we headed to the ice rink. It was the last game of the summer season of the Mullet League, one of the many “old guy” hockey leagues that play late in the evenings. We were there to see a couple of friends, guys who love the game so much so that they ignore the aches and pains of middle age and keep playing.
We were the only three people in the stands. Max and Jake waved their handmade signs and cheered whenever Dan or Pierre came on the ice. Max ran the length of the rink with his sign over his head whenever Dan touched the puck and carried it toward the goal. And when Pierre scored a goal, we looked at each other with glee and said, “Did you see that? I saw that! We were here to see him score!”
One of my greatest joys is being a witness.
Being the one who goes, to who stands beside, who watches with wonder and cries because it is so beautiful. Who cheers or bows her head or simply looks on and says, “yes… I see you are strong, gorgeous, smart, amazing, daring, brave”. I am at my happiest when I am standing beside someone I care about and simply being there while they do something brilliant, terrifying or heartbreakingly difficult. And I can wave and say I am here. I saw you do it. It is true and real.
I am teaching Max that 90% of being a part of a community is simply that, bearing witness to each other’s lives. Listening to each others stories with wonder and awe and compassion. Being there for each other as we bloom and wilt and breakdown only to breakthrough over and over again. Its not about doing the right thing, or saying the right thing but simply about being there–steadfast.
Being there seems to be my skill. In fact, I am beginning to believe its my purpose. To hold space, to witness. To see people, as they are–amazingly strong, utterly resilient, brave and bold and sometimes broken but unbelievably gorgeous in their being. To stand there and say, “I see you. I see your dreams, your fears. I see you, not the pretend plastic coating that you put on but you, with your messiness and your struggles and I love you. Its all going to be ok.”
Isn’t that why we all come here, this community of writers who come to bear witness to each other’s writing, lives, stories poured out on the page? We come to hold the space so something beautiful and healing and new and centering can be born. We take leaps, we soar, we sometimes fail, but above all we bear witness.
For you, who come here, or sit in my living room. For those of you who have commented, or who have held me while I cried, who played me music so I could dance or simple said, “I am here”. You are my witness to this messy and full life, spilling over with happiness and grief and fear. This is for you.