Last night was the first National Hockey League game of the season for my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs. I was ready to be glued to the TV set. This could be the year that the Leafs hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1967. I was a teenager back then, a Torontonian who watched four cup parades in that decade … a fanatic fan.
I watched the game last night, waiting for my body and soul to explode as the Leafs peppered the Montreal net with brilliant shots, and as our goalie Frederick made one stunning save after another. And then, of course, we’d win. As it turned out, we did win, but I didn’t explode. Actually I was pretty flat during the whole affair.
I went to sleep clueless about my waned devotion. I woke up with one word on my lips … “Mitch”. A few years ago, Mitch Marner played for my local junior team – the London Knights. I loved watching him zoom up the ice, make impossible passes and blast the puck into the top corner of the net. An 18-year-old was my hero. And then the Leafs drafted him. Thus rekindled was passion for my team.
Mitch didn’t do much last night. His passes went awry. His shots missed the net. And I wasn’t engaged in the game. The truth seems clear: I create heroes. I imagine myself as them. If they don’t perform well, I’m bummed. Somehow it’s an attack on my self-esteem. I want heroic moments so I can bask in the glory of their excellence.
I did the same thing with Mike Weir, Canada’s champion golfer who won the Masters in 2003. I lived and died on every tournament result. If I was watching on TV, it was on every shot. What sense does it make to allow my happiness to be blowing in the wind of Mitch and Mike’s performance? None!
I’m a different person than I was in 2003. There’s a richness to life, to the possibilities of consciousness, that wasn’t as fully developed then. Could it be that my ho-humness is less about Mitch’s lack of results and more about competitive sports no longer floating my boat? I wonder. I still love the transcendent moments in hockey, golf and tennis but something has changed. What animates my life these days is a conversation with one other person where we touch each other’s souls. The flow of a hockey game can’t hold a candle to communion.