Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Hard-Earned Day's End

On the silver screen, more often than not the outcome is predictable. Good triumphs over evil. The hero gets the girl. Everyone lives happily ever after. Celluloid heroes never feel any pain.

In real-life not only are we not quite as tall or brightly lit as we seem to be in technicolor on the big screen, we are not guaranteed the result of any undertaking. Life is, itself, the original unscripted drama after all. All of us may pray at the Temple of Hoyle but we realize - even in doing so - that things often do not go according to his or our best-laid plans.

Yesterday, after greeting the day in Atlantic City still very much alive in the State Wrestling Championships, Frank's spectacular junior season came to an abrupt end. After losing in his quarterfinal match against his weight class's defending champion in the morning, Frank was required to do what kids are required to do in a tournament such as this one. He returned to the mat about an hour later in an elimination match (the technical term in wrestling is the consolation wrestle backs). Win and be guaranteed a spot on the podium (a top 8 finish). Lose and begin preparation for the 2010-11 campaign. He lost.

From our vantage point in the arena yesterday we could see the pained look on Frank's face when his match ended and with it his season and his hope of placing at the State Championships. This has been an extraordinarily trying twelve months for Margaret's family as all continue to deal with - and less frequently reel from - the death of the familial anchor Suzy B. It has always seemed to me that Frank - a teenage boy with a greater than expected amount of gravitas - had an especially close relationship with his paternal grandparents - Nona and Grandpa Joe. I suspect that a not insignificant piece of what fueled him this season was the loss of her and the desire to do something to honor her.

And if that was in fact his goal, he succeeded. It matters not that the photograph of the medal winners @ 160 pounds at the 2010 State Championships will not include Frank. His finishing position is not the controlling factor here. He went about his business all season in a way that would have brought a proud smile to his Nona's face - with purpose and with dignity. Had she been sitting with us yesterday, watching a long season's hard work and expectations disintegrate in the span of seventy-five minutes, her reaction afterwards would have mirrored Frank's. Seeing the pain etched on his face likely would have made her inconsolable for the rest of the day, disconsolate not over the loss of a wrestling match but over her grandson's pain.

At some point though - whether today or next week or whenever - the two of them would have had a quiet moment together during which she would have reminded him how proud she was of him, how happy she was for him for all he had accomplished this season and how much he meant to her - and to all of us - giving us something to cheer for and to be proud of every day, win or lose.

She is not here to deliver the message to him face-to-face. I suspect however - knowing what a resourceful and goal-oriented Italian grandmother my mom-in-law was - she will get it to him. And he will take it to heart and gather his energy for one more shot at all of this mayhem next year, knowing that all he can control is his preparation and his effort and that the outcome is something yet to be determined.

For it is in athletics as it is in life. That which does not kill us makes us stronger. That which at the end of the day - even the longest Saturday of a certain 17 y/o athlete's life - gives him a reason to believe. Similar to the one he gives those of us who cheer for him.

Win or lose.


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