Throwing

I was watching the Rogers Cup tennis tournament yesterday afternoon on TV. Rafael Nadal, the number one male player in the world, was striding onto the court. So was his opponent, but I didn’t notice him much.

As the game got going, it soon became clear that Benoit Paire had a wicked backhand. He also was no Nadal and I expected a quick match. After Benoit missed a fairly easy shot at the net, he leaned over and smashed his racket on the court. Then he stood up and threw it straight down, and it bounced crazily. His face was a seething mask of disgust, and I just stared. I know he’s playing for a lot of dollars but tennis is just a game, isn’t it?

Four more times during the match, Benoit launched his racket and I soon tired of his fury.

I thought back to other TV adventures, such as professional golf tournaments. A player hits the ball out of bounds and proceeds to imbed his club in the fairway carpet. Or perhaps flings his 4-iron into the woods. Clearly the world is coming to an end.

And unless you think I’ve risen above such displays of pique, I remember standing on an elevated tee with a shallow pond down below. My drive dribbled along the grass and plopped mockingly into the drink. Being the mature human being that I was, I picked up my golf bag (accompanied by a set of clubs) and flung the whole mess into the water. I stared at the offending equipment as it slowly submerged, and yelled some profanity. Seconds later, I woke up, stumbled off the tee and waded into the murkiness, eventually ho-heave-hoing the sodden package to the shore. Can you say “out of my mind”?

What the heck happens to us human beings when things go wrong? Whatever happened to equanimity? All I know is that whenever I’m starting to become full of myself, all I have to do is remember my glazed eyes as the clubs sank beneath the surface. That brings me back to earth.

Thank God.

The World Cup of Spirit

I love watching the soccer games in Russia this week and I wonder what they can say to me about a transformed life.  Are there perspectives open to me that can bring alive the events of the game and point to other realities?

The World Cup is about nations, people cheering for their countrymen.  It’s about belonging to a group, and what a fine feeling that is.  But what if the group was … everybody?  We could cheer for all the great passes, shots and saves, no matter who made them.  We could cheer for players who push the ball forward, launch lots of shots at the net, throw themselves through the air for a header, rather than those who play defensively, hanging back, not risking a pass in heavy traffic.  I would like that.

I love watching the ball fly through the air.  When a right-footed player curves a ball towards the goal, and it looks like it will miss to the right, but then tucks inside the post, it’s a thing of beauty.  It makes me think of times when something I’m doing isn’t working out right but somehow providence intervenes and I’m being carried on the winds of goodness to a safe landing.

I love seeing the fans go crazy when their team scores – the ecstatic smiles, the hugging, the jumping up into the air.  Especially little kids, maybe with painted faces, their eyes so wide with delight.  What if we could have the same explosion of joy because we love each other – a celebration of including everyone in our human family?  No one left out.  What if a man or woman walks into the room and our immediate response is “You’re here!  I’m so glad to see you”?  That would be lovely.

Near the end of the Portugal – Uruguay game today, Edinson Cavani, who had scored both of Uruguay’s goals, fell to the ground, injured.  Portugal’s Ronaldo, acknowledged by some as the best player in the world, helped Cavani limp off the field.  What life is all about, I think.  Fierce competitors, yes.  Companions on the human journey, even more so.

And then there were the national anthems.  It looked like every player on both teams held their head high and belted out the familiar lyrics.  What if we all expressed ourselves that way, looking into the eyes of those around us and saying what was true, expressing ourselves without antagonism or a beating of the breast?  That would be so fine.

Sport points to the truths of transcendence and community and love.  May we have the eyes to see that winning and losing are pale shadows of what really matters.

The Jets Are Fading in My Mind

I love sports, or so I tell me.  I have favourite teams and players and have been known to exalt or wail, depending on the results.

Let me give you a rundown of my heroes:

Toronto Maple Leafs (hockey)
Winnipeg Jets (hockey)
Toronto Blue Jays (baseball)
Toronto FC (soccer)
Toronto Raptors (basketball)
Brooke Henderson (golf)
Denis Shapovalov (tennis)

Enough champions to make anyone happy, wouldn’t you say?  Well … maybe.

Last night I started watching the Jets on TV.  If the team won, they’d be in the semi-finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs.  The game was in Winnipeg, where just about all the fans in the building wear white and wave towels like crazy.  So exciting!

Within ten minutes of game start, something happened to that exclamation mark.  It was … fading.  The fans were still jumping up and down, Winnipeg and Nashville were taking turns roaring down the ice, but I was no longer engaged.  Instead I was mystified. “How can I not be excited?  This is the playoffs!”

In my perplexity, I thought of my other sporting heroes.  No juice there either.  Was I becoming a blah blob?

No, I wasn’t.

Some force is moving through me, pushing me towards a deep sense of relationship with human beings.  There’s a beauty and a spirit that I can’t name but it’s lifting me up.  The majesty is far beyond the thrill of a breakaway, a slam dunk or a three-wood nestling close to the pin.  It’s like a 60-watt bulb compared to a spotlight.

Am I becoming the next version of me?  Are the old me’s taking their rightful place in the background?  I don’t know.

I’m open to where this roaring river is taking me.  A destination that I can’t even conceive of.

Not knowing
Not planning
Not a care in the world

Kind Athletes

I’m my own person, and although I love being loved, I don’t need other folks to validate my existence.  Having said that, I still have heroes.  Most of them are humanitarians, such as Martin Luther King, but some are from the arena of sports.  For me, there’s something about striving to the depths of your sinews to get the job done on the ice, on the tennis court, or on the playing field.  I love the instant replays of sweet passing plays, great saves or the long home run ball.

But there’s something else.  I so much want my heroes to be nice people.  I want to imagine feeling comfy while having a coffee with the Dalai Lama, Meryl Streep or Dave Keon.  I want to know that they’re “just folks”, not some highfalutin’ celebrity full of themselves.

This morning I was reading the sports section of The Toronto Sun.  And I came across words that made me smile.  Larry Walker was an outstanding baseball player with the old Montreal Expos team.  Pedro Martinez, a Hall of Fame pitcher, was talking about why Larry too should be in the Hall.  Beyond the man’s performance stats was this:

Your boy was the best guy, the most outgoing veteran, the easiest to deal with.  He was like a big kid all the time.  He was always playing and trying to make you smile.

Okay, there’s a fellow I’d like to know.  Anyone who can augment the world’s output of smiles is just fine in my books.  The great plays are to be applauded but so is the kind heart.

Another article spoke of Rasual Butler, a retired player from the National Basketball Association.  Rasual and his wife were killed in a car crash a few days ago.  Sadness has flowed through the NBA this week.

He was a wonderful young man, a pure heart.  That’s why people felt about him the way they did.  He was genuine.  There was no fake about him whatsoever … The news hit Lowry hard, reinforcing how fragile life is and how every moment must be cherished. 

Ahh … to have a giving heart, one that continually reaches out while not sacrificing one’s own well-being.  And to know that the person isn’t putting up a wall, that he or she is giving you all of them.  Oh yes.  I’d love to sit in Tim Hortons with such a one.

I still love the highlight reels and the world records.  But a quiet word with a full human being is even better.

Team

On Sunday evening, I stood in Maple Leaf Square with thousands of other Toronto fans.  Inside the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs were battling the Washington Capitals in a National Hockey League playoff game.

When Auston Matthews scored for the home team, we went nuts, waving our white flags and jumping up and down.  I was so happy.

But that joy pales in comparison to yesterday afternoon.  I was watching the Grade 6 girls from South Dorchester School play in the finals of a basketball tournament.  The score was 9-8 with about two minutes left.  “Monica” was well outside the foul line when she launched a ball skyward.  A sweet touch on the backboard and then nothing but net.  Ecstasy coursed through my arteries and veins.  I stood and cheered.  After a few close calls at the other end, the whistle blew and there was a mass of hugging 12-year-olds.

The difference was love.  I know those youngsters as human beings and I care deeply about them.  Oh, I say I love the Leafs but we all know that’s a junior version of a very fine thing to feel.

The image staying with me is all the jump balls that were called.  Two girls would have their hands on the basketball and wouldn’t let go.  Sometimes they’d be rolling around on the floor, still hanging on.  Go South Dorchester!  You girls are fierce.  I loved seeing your energy – pushing the ball up the floor, falling down and getting up, missing a shot and keeping your head high.  Wow.

My wish is that twenty years from now, when you think of yesterday, the first thing you’ll remember is your teammates – how you hung in there together, patted each other on the shoulder when things were bad, high fived each other when things were good.  You gave it all for your friends.

So this is what walking on air feels like.

A Tale Of Two Pubs

Last night, it was Babe’s Macaroni Grill and Bar in Utica, New York.  I had a burger and fries.  Tonight I tried Mingo’s Sports Bar and Grill in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  In the interest of consuming a wide variety of food, I had a burger and sweet potato fries.

Last night, I told my bartender friend Michelle about the silent meditation retreat I’ll begin on Wednesday.  She was fascinated about longterm meditation.  I told her about falling in love on my last long retreat (a mistake), about the peace I felt in the meditation hall, about the Dalai Lama telling an interviewer “My religion is kindness”, and my opinion that the truest realm of spirituality is in the real world when I’m one-to-one with another human being.

Michelle told me about the Grafton Peace Pagoda, erected in the 1990’s by a Buddhist monk as a monument to world peace.  And guess what?  Grafton, New York was on my route to the retreat.  This afternoon, I climbed the steps of the pagoda – a giant white dome shining in the sun, way out in the woods.  A large statue of the Buddha was inset in one wall.  Plus carvings depicted the demon Mara tempting the Buddha with power, glory and pleasure while he refused to abandon the peace that had enveloped him.  All this majesty spread before me on a sunny winter’s day.

Tonight my companions were sports fanatics.  That’s okay.  So am I.  “Go, Leafs, Go!”  (That’s the Toronto Maple Leafs in the National Hockey League.)  The bartender was waxing poetic about football’s Super Bowl.  Next Sunday, he’ll be experiencing spasms of delight or agony while I’ll remain blissfully unaware within the grounds of the Insight Meditation Society.

Next to me at the bar was a fellow watching a women’s basketball game between the Universities of South Carolina and Tennessee.  “Which team are you cheering for?” I asked.  “Neither.  I’m scouting South Carolina.  They play UConn in thirteen days.”  The gentleman has been a University of Connecticut basketball fan for thirty years.  They’re the top women’s basketball program in the nation.  I learned about their marvelous coach and the factors that have made UConn the best, such as conditioning and defense.  I marvelled at this man’s universe, about which I knew little.

Such different conversations one night to the next.  But just like the burgers, they were somehow the same.  Human beings reaching for the sun.

In The Arena

Many years ago, Jody and I went to a Toronto Raptors basketball game.  It was at the Air Canada Centre.  Last night I retraced our steps.

I walked in the door, escalated myself to the heavens, and then proceeded even more upward to the very top row of the ACC.  Way below me were an array of red and blue ants, otherwise known as professional basketball players warming up.

Directly ahead of me, about twenty feet away, was a large screen hanging from the ceiling. As the game unfolded, I forced myself to watch the ants rather than lapsing into TV mode.  I’d glance up occasionally at a closeup of a player taking a free throw but mostly I was faithful to the “here and nowness” of it all.

A Raptors game can be a full body experience.  Employees roamed around with heavy cameras on their shoulders, watching for fans jumping up and down, smiling, laughing, hugging and in general having a good time.  Although I suspected that part of the fervor was an effort to get oneself on the big screen, it was still great fun.  Kids bouncing, arms of all ages in the air, mouths agape … go for it you Raptorites!  Children especially were totally themselves.  Their friends and their parents shared in the joy.  So very cool.

Adult moving and grooving seemed to peak when the team’s dancing girls bounced up the stairs with t-shirts to throw.  There even was a multi-barrelled gun on the court, sending a rain of shirts skyward.  But who cares about the motivation?  Give me an event with happy faces and I’ll be happy.

I loved the energy of cheering fans in their thousands.  I also love the energy of sitting with one person, talking about our lives.  And the energy of silent aloneness, watching the tapestries of life parading behind my closed eyes.

I love it all

 

TFC

That’s as in the Toronto FC soccer club, part of the best professional league in North America.  Last night was the semifinal game in Toronto with 36,000 rabid fans expected.  I just couldn’t stay away.

The bus dropped me off about a ten-minute walk from BMO Field.  That was around 7:20, with the game having started at 7:00.  Toronto gridlock strikes again.  All around me were power walkers, apparently each faster than me.  As we got closer to the bright lights of the stadium,  quiet rhythms became medium chanting became a wall of sound from high above me.  So cool.

Inside the building, nature called, and so did Chicken and Kimchi Fries, a whopping pile of the stuff.  I maneuvered my way to Section 205, Row N, Seat 4, balancing my styrofoam container with immense aplomb.  My seatmates made way and I sat down, surrounded by Toronto supporters.  Often they would stand, spread their arms wide, yell “TFC” and clap three times.  Whoa!  More energy than my gourmet meal.  A Montreal goal bowed the heads and terminated the applause, while above me a small section of Québecois picked up the pace.  “Allez!  Allez!  Allez!”  “Courage!”  Oh, they gave ‘er.

Only the occasional local gave the opposition fans grief.  Mostly the cheers got our juices flowing again.  A few minutes of mourning gave way to “This is our house!”  And then a corner kick zoomed towards the goal, ready for the foot of TFC’s Armando Cooper.  The world lifted beside me in decibel squeals, while I lowered my nose towards the fries.  I cheered in vertical seclusion.

Later, my appetite vanquished, I was up with the rest of them, moving and grooving.  More Toronto goals, more bouncing on the spot, hugging my neighbours, high fives all around.  If folks were talking to me, I couldn’t hear them.

The Montreal folks chanted right to the end, even with the game lost.  I respected them for that.  Once, though, there was a commotion two rows behind me.  I turned to see a police officer holding a Montrealer in a headlock, while another was holding back the punch that a Torontonian was brandishing.  Lower down, a third officer was restraining a male fan whose face brimmed with hate.  I don’t believe I’d ever seen hate in real life.  Scary.

After the offenders were whisked away, the first fellow in handcuffs, we were back to the run of play.  Cheers and cries and moans flowed among the stands.  I was being held in an ecstasy of energy.  Almost all of us were standing.  And this was completely new in my life.  I was lifted up, time and again.  Guess I’m a crowdaholic.

By the way, Toronto won, and that was sort of important to me.  But the energy?  Worlds beyond the score, rampant with bliss.  I’ll have some more, please.

Home In The Arena

I made it to Erie, Pennsylvania in just under five hours.  The US customs guy told me to enjoy the game.  Just what I was planning.

After a brewski and sandwich at the Erie Ale House, I walked towards the arena.  Just like in London, fans were streaming in from the side streets.  People were excited.  I sure was.  I couldn’t wait to sit beside Erie fanatics and tell them I was from London.

And that’s what happened.  I sat beside John and Sharon from Jamestown, New York.  Just in front of me was Sondra, a cowbell-ringing season ticket holder who was taking in the game with her husband.  All four of them were decked out in bright Erie Otters jerseys – red, yellow and white.

I told my cross-border friends about Canadians singing the American national anthem on Friday.  Her response?  “We always sing ‘O Canada’ at the games.”  (Almost all of the teams are Canadian.)  So I decided to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” two nights in a row.  An awesome quartet led us in the songs but we five gave ‘er too.  Great fun.

My companions razzed me about the London Knights always getting favorable calls from referees.  I told them I was deeply sorry that Erie would be relegated to second place after London whipped them.  Back and forth with the banter.  Most importantly, back and forth with the smiles.  When Erie was struggling in their own zone, Sondra would yell “Get it out!”  Naturally I countered with “Keep it in!”  Oh we laughed.

Erie scored the first goal.  All around me Erieites leapt to their feet and poured out the contents of their lungs.  I sat and gave a good pout and in return was offered a high five … which I accepted.

Then London scored!  I too was up like a shot, cheering and waving.  I looked around at my neighbours.  Most were smiling at me.  I didn’t want to be an ugly Canadian but I did want to celebrate.

Erie’s arena seats 6500, smaller than London but at least equal in energy.  How they love their team.  The Otters beat the Knights 4-2 last night, scoring an empty net goal in the last few seconds.  Erie Insurance Arena erupted in an orgasm of delight.  I just loved being there.  Human beings caught in the throes of joy, at least about 6480 of them.

This afternoon, I drive those same five hours back home.  Am I disappointed we lost the game?  Yes.  Does it matter?  No.  People matter and I met some great ones yesterday.

Waiting with You

Jody had a hankering for Chinese food yesterday and one of our PSWs recommended a restaurant in London.  So off I went to gather in some breaded shrimp, Oriental noodles, chicken fried rice and lemon chicken.  Other than my bike rides every second day, I don’t leave our home very often, usually just to get groceries and meds and then scurry back.  I used to like writing about my adventures out in the world that day, but it hasn’t happened much lately.

After I gave my order to a most delightful hostess, I plopped down in a chair, and saw that I had company in the takeout department.  Near me sat a woman in her 50s, deeply tanned and sporting an exotic hairstyle – lots of curls here and there.  In the other direction, a grandma and her perhaps six-year-old grandson faced each other across a small glass-topped table.

“What should we do while we wait, grandma?”

“Let’s play hockey.”

“Okay.”

With that, the woman pulled a quarter out of her purse and instructed the young man about the rules of the game.  Finger on the coin at the near edge of the table.  Brush it forward towards the far side, where the other person is waiting, holding two fingers up as goalposts.  Either you score or you don’t.  Then it’s the other person’s turn.  The woman suggested that the boy be Canada and she’d be the USA.  The fellow heartily agreed.

So back and forth they went.  Lots of cheers and groans.  And I didn’t have to pay for a front row seat!  At one point, grandson said, “Isn’t it time for the Zamboni to clean the ice?”  (For those of you unfamiliar with hockey games, the Zamboni is a vehicle that melts the surface of the ice, making it smooth for the next period’s play.)  Grandma sighed, and told the boy that unfortunately the restaurant didn’t come equipped with a Zamboni.  “Let’s keep playing.”  And they did … until a brown paper bag and a smiling hostess appeared in front of them.  Game over.

As they headed towards the door, I asked grandma what the final score was.  She smiled with her whole body and said “5-2 Canada”.  Well done, young man.

Basking in the glow of this lovely encounter with professional athletes, I said hello to the woman with the tan.  She smiled back and mentioned the sunny fall weather we were having.  I agreed.  She talked about the tough winter we’d had.  My response?  “I like weather.”  Seeing an opportunity for storytelling, I told my new friend about the time I’d spent Christmas in Honolulu, and how seeing wizened little Christmas trees, and Santa in shorts, just seemed … wrong.  I had asked one Hawaiian gentleman what the weather was like in March or August, and he had replied, “Oh, about the same”.  And that had made me sad, leaving me longing for snow, blasting winds and tingling fingers (but not quite freezing rain).

The lady asked me about Hawaii, what I enjoyed about it. “Waikiki Beach was cool, although it was very crowded.  The best, though, was Hanauma Bay, where I walked knee deep into the water and found myself surrounded by all sorts of colourful fish.”

And then … another bag.  Another moment with the gracious hostess.  It was my turn.  Story over.  My weather companion and I smiled at each other and said goodbye.  Truly, a good time.