Thursday, April 22, 2010

Victory and Triumph

This past week has been one for the highlight reel in sports.  Our favorite, Phil Mickelson, won the Masters Golf Championship, evidence that there is a certain cosmic justice in the universe. 

In addition, we were invited to be present when Larry Miller’s jersey, # 9, was retired in the rafters of the Energy Solutions Arena during half-time at the Jazz game.

Both events had particular meaning for us.

But there’s one athletic contest that will not go down in history or even be recorded by avid sports writers.  And it was the most inspiring.

It took place last Saturday.  Here’s how it happened.

Necie, our only granddaughter, had a soccer game that morning, like every kid her age in the neighborhood.  It is a rite of passage for children these days. 

Her team, however, was decimated, due to illness and vacations.  She was one player of only four.  Besides Necie, there were Justice, Anna and Trevor.  (No “Suzy” or “Bill” on the roster.)   They were the core four, ribbons and pony tails flapping in the breeze, and smiling their first-grade, six-year-old smiles – not a single front tooth among them.

Their coach reviewed their game strategy, lined them up, and told them to play hard and have fun.  The day looked promising.

Then the other team took the field.  They were all boys…whose mouths revealed two rows each of adult teeth.  This was obviously their first string, and the coach called them by name, like Santa’s roll call of his most infamous mutant reindeer:  On Brutus! On Caius Cassius!  Let’s go, Iago!  Come on, Mephastophales!

I turned to Dennis and said, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

The whistle blew, and the game began.  Well, the Goths moved down the field like rotweilers with distemper.  Our team ran, scrambled, and fell in futility, as the ball went swift and sure to the goal.  Nothing but net.

Their fans roared their terrible roar, and gnashed their terrible teeth.

This burned about 25 seconds off the game clock.  At this point, all our parents and grandparents were checking their watches, praying the playing time would expire and end the merciless massacre.  We still had 44 ½ minutes to go.

We all shouted encouragement like, “Way to hang in there,” and “Shake if off,” and “You’ll get ‘em next time!”

Our guys would line up again, smile their toothless grins, and try to defend against the onslaught.  Twenty seconds later the ball exploded into the center of the net.  Our team’s defense was as porous as their teeth.

The fans on our side collectively contorted into the fetal position, as if each goal were a personal sucker-punch to the solar plexis, hoping the groans were not audible.  We averted our eyes for the humiliation.

Once more,  Necie, Justice, Anna and Trevor assembled, ready to play.

After six goals in rapid succession, their coach put in their B team, calling them individually to the line:  Atilla, Taras Bulba, Vlad the Impaler, and Caligula.

We watched as their goals mounted.  But interestingly, for every point they scored, our team lined up ready to play again.  These kids were exhausted, thirsty, sucking wind – and there were no subs on the entire planet to provide respite.

Suddenly, there was a palpable shift in the momentum – not with the players, but with the crowd.  We uncoiled from our contortions and began genuinely cheering these diminutive, intrepid gladiators.

Then came the miracle.  Due to some cosmic anomaly, Anna was able to kick the ball into OUR net.  The crowd went  insane, standing, ovating.  John Stockton’s winning, 3-point buzzer-beater paled by comparison.

It was now 12-1. 

The team ramped up their efforts.  Necie got her mojo.  She defended. She deflected. She blocked.  She intercepted.  She had the tenacity of a pit bull, and thwarted their attempts to score once again…or it would have been 13-1.  Ha!  Not on Necie’s watch!

As a supreme humanitarian gesture, the time ran out.  We mobbed the team; they were nearly carried off the field on our shoulders and crowned with laurel wreaths. 

In an act of consummate sportsmanship, all the parents of both sides formed a victory arc de triumph for each of the players to run through…praise and glory all around.

There were no losers this day.  There was no defeat. While we did not get the victory, we got the triumph.  Their team won the game.  Our team won the hearts.

I learned some important things that morning.  Possibly the best lessons are taught before we have all our adult teeth.  Maybe it isn’t about winning and the idea that anything less is losing.  “Nice try” is just that – a nice try.  To conquer, to dominate, just may not be the sole purpose of competition.  Perhaps reciting the Olympic Creed is more authentic than chanting “We’re number one!”

Hmmm.  I pondered the possibilities.

So, in light of my new enlightenment, I have decided to declare my New Year’s Resolutions.  Yes, I do know it’s April.  But I cannot be held accountable for commitments made under the influence of mainlining fruit cake and the annual holiday dietary glut.  Nor should said resolutions be emblazoned on stone tablets carried down from Mt. Sinai to hold us hostage.

No.  Resolutions should be seasonally adjusted, becoming the servants of one’s whims and caprice of the moment.  Expediency must be the guiding principle.

Ergo, with the understanding that victory is not always triumph, here are my mid-term “gonna do’s,” designed solely to bring me joy.

1.    Lower the level of my discourse.
2.    Drink an entire bottle of Orange Crush without pausing to take a breath and belch the Gettysburg Address.
3.    Eat cucumber sandwiches.
4.    Invite myself to someone’s picnic in the park
5.    Attend every garage sale and farmer’s market.
6.    Redefine haute cuisine to include hot dogs at the ball park.
7.    Stifle the groan when I arise after stooping to wipe a grandkid’s nose.
8.    Start singing Christmas carols on the 4th of July.
9.    Go hang gliding…and then –
10.    Have a comprehensive psychological evaluation.  (If I reversed the order of #9 and #10, I’d never go hang gliding.)

We’ll see what May brings.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

To Half and Half Not

I have gone on record as making a commitment to living my life half-fast.  So far, I’ve been monumentally successful. 

It seems to me that life is organized by halves:  half joy, half sorrow; half up, half down; half yin, half yang.  Most things in the world are divided in half.

Think about it.  There’s:
Half and half.
Half moon.
Half Nelson.
Half gainer.
Half life.
Half time.
Half note.
Half truth.
Half mast.
Half staff.
Half off.
Half-way house.
The cup is half full.

Not half bad, huh?

Numbers are simply our way of arranging or classifying quantities.  They give order and symmetry and regularity to our existence. 

Some numbers don’t necessarily have to be totally accurate to be valid.  We can tweak them to represent what they OUGHT to be…for instance, age, weight, cleavage. 

Nevertheless, numbers have a spirit, not just a value.

Some numbers cannot be altered to satisfy vanity.  They say there is safety in numbers.  That’s not always true.  Often numbers are riddled with danger and menace.

Blood draws are never routine. There is a tense anticipation ever-present as the quarterly date approaches.  And the weeks prior to lab day are fraught with angst. 

Tweaking these numbers would serve no purpose.  Their reality is stark and immutable.  One single numerical value may alter a lifetime.

So we just don’t think about it.  This year we went to Palm Springs to watch the tennis matches and celebrate our anniversary…and didn’t think about it.  We clean the house and grocery shop and go through our day not thinking about it.  Every minute we are acutely aware of what we’re not thinking about.

Blood work is like the body’s Rosetta Stone.  The equations yield vital information.  Some results can be good.  But like the head of Medussa, some numbers can turn you to stone just looking at them.

Thursday morning, Dennis met with the phlebotomist, who congenially sucked out multiple vials of the liquid.  (Funny how perky people can be on the other end of the needle.)  When the draw concluded, we left…and the wait began.

It’s an ironic predicament expecting that telephone to ring - the apprehension and the hope - knowing the results will determine which diverging road we will be going down.  It’s a little like walking on a high wire – simply taking a breath could disrupt equilibrium and send one tumbling into free fall. 

That night Dr. Jones finally called to say the lab results showed Dennis’ numbers to be totally normal – especially his tumor markers. Normal.  All he could say was, “Unbelievable!”  Neither of us could move.  We stood like cement casts…our brains sending messages to bodily appendages with no response.

Friday Dr. Mulvihill ratified those results with an enthusiastic examination of Dennis’ central domain.  And after a thorough review of all the digits, he issued him a clean bill of health.  Furthermore, he said that at this juncture, statistically speaking, it is more likely the cancer will NOT recur, than that it will.  “51-49.” The cup is more than half full, and since it is our policy to round up, our cup runneth over. We’ve been given half a chance.  Good Friday came a week early this year. 

Now, we know we’re not out of the woods yet, but…

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But we have promises to keep,
And miles to go before we sleep…”

Our car drove home like a hovercraft.  I don’t recall the wheels touching the road.  And that night we slept more peacefully than we have of late.

We are buoyant.  There’s such a sense of renewal.

We will celebrate Easter…all year…and live the life we have fought so hard for.

Nuri Al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, said, “The beautiful days in life come after fatigue and difficulties.  The difficult labor produces a more beloved result.”  Amen.