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…
There comes a time when it is abundantly clear that compassion not ambition is what is needed. There are moments when we gather in small and big numbers to pledge that nurture trumps success and kindness trumps victory. When we realize that giving up and giving in or simply giving, with loving arms open, is the only way forward.
These moments go best with coffee, good coffee, although they are also perfectly paired with tea, or wine or chocolate chip cookies or for that matter water too. Anything that can be shared, given freely, an offering of sorts to seal the deal we make, the promise to be a healing presence in the world. In this space we ask (perhaps for the thousandth time), “What would shift if I adopted love (not defensiveness, or pride or jealousy or fear) as my mantle?” We ask, “How would it be if we recognized the sameness in our humanity? How would everything change? What would it mean?
When we are awake to these moments, when we are conscious about what they mean for the world, if we keep our eyes open, we are often rewarded by a little sign, a sweet treat that tells us that the Universe conspires with us. An inside joke or perhaps a burning bush, a reminder that yes…Love is the only way forward.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
Every Wednesday night, more or less, for the past few years have been guitar night–when Jeff comes over and when we pour wine and laugh and talk hockey and politics and and play our guitars. We often start with a lesson and then we play some together just for kicks–the songs I love to sing. And then as the night grows old (and I grow sleepy) my friend plays for me as I curl up on the couch and delight in homemade music. Sometimes I sing, and every now and then I dance, but mostly I just listen.
Witnessing a song being born can make my breath catch and cracks me open. “Play me something new” I always insist. When we first met, Jeff played me old standards, but I quickly demanded to hear his originals–the ones he rarely played out. Now, if I am lucky I will hear a song that he wrote just that morning. Tender or wistful songs that offer me a glimpse into a part of my friend’s heart I hadn’t yet known.
When I got my camera, I knew that I wanted to take pictures of my favorite people’s hands, going the things I love to see them do. Yet, I was shy taking out my camera to capture his hands as he played for me that night. I who write or do my art in the safety of solitude, I was confronted with the rawness and vulnerability of creating in front of someone else. Suddenly, in the simple act of raising the camera to my eye, I understood the level of courage it takes to share a new song and in that moment almost drowned in gratitude for what happens in my living room each Wednesday night.
Some days are harder than most, the days when even the most simple of tasks weigh heavy and it is as though the entire universe has dug in its heels and says NO! Days when disappointment and frustration is palpable and progress is laughable. When everything feels impossible. On those days there is only surrender.
And then, sometimes, in the silence that follows the giving up, there are quiet whispers that promise a way forward, or at least change of some sort. Perhaps its an idea, more often its a flower, or a bird song, or the kindness of the guy at the mechanic who is more upset than I that I still have no windshield wipers and the rain is coming…Something that holds me gently and suggests a step in a new direction, or maybe just another breath.
So often, however, I don’t hear the wisdom through the silence but instead am wailing and gnashing my teeth at the unfairness, consumed by my own despair over the endless spinning. The pushing and the wailing both feel so noble but they are no more than an exercise in exhaustion.
I am learning sometimes that giving up and giving in is the wisest of moves. Ironically, it is the only thing that allows me to conserve the energy I need to keep on keeping on.
I don’t know how to teach my son stamina–how to teach him to keep moving forward when the winds of life are pushing back, sweeping sand into his eyes. So much easier it is to sink into the ground, on knees, crumple into a heap, or lay in a position of rest with face to the sun, like a cat with her belly exposed and the sunbeam warm. Is there wisdom in that place of laying down? More wisdom than in the pushing forward against the wind to no avail. What can be learned in that place?
Are we really weak when we admit we can’t go on? Or are we strong to admit that now is not the time to push forward anymore.
Luscious and succulent and dripping with juice. These peaches were tremendous. We ate our fill in the fields and then made a peach and blackberry crumble for dessert that night. All week we ate peaches, sweet and dripping as well as plums of all sizes and colors.
I picked these stone fruits with my dear friend Kaiya and our kids on a farm not far from her house at the height of last summer. The older kids climbed trees to get the best of the crop until they were chased out by the farm workers. The little one handed me the fruit, offering sweetness so naturally. “Abundance is yours” he seemed to say as I began to stagger underneath the weight of all those peaches we picked. Here–yours for the asking.