Saturday, February 26, 2011

Time Bandits

Life span is a dice roll. At birth, scant few if any of us know precisely how long we shall have to rock and roll around this big blue marble. And as we get older that does not really ever change. Given all the ways in which we mark time, upon further reflection it seems to me that when it comes to actually controlling it, impotence is the order of the day. No, you need not swallow one of your little blue pills. It is powerless here.

Because life is an exercise that unwinds sequentially - and not all at once - we often complete an entire chapter of our life before embarking upon a new one. Our life's length may impact not at all on the amount of time allotted to us to enjoy one particular part of it. Certain aspects of our life have a shelf life. Once it is past, it is gone forever.

Joe, the Missus and me spent part of our Friday night at Union High School. We were there to cheer for Frank in his Region 3 quarter-final match as well as to lend support to his teammate Tom Morelli (as well as Ryan's cousin Mike and Matt Albano's namesake). The gym was packed as eight kids per weight class in fourteen weight classes competed in an effort to advance one match closer to their shared dream of the State Championships in Atlantic City. This weekend is a double-elimination tournament. A defeat on the mat last night did not end any wrestler's season (although there were a couple of matches in which a forfeit occurred and I have no idea whether losing without wrestling does end one's season). But it most certainly moved the young men who lost a bit closer to the precipice.

And even though they are all kids - some of whom to me look even too young to be high-school age (which may have more to do with the distance between my high school days and present day than anything else at all) - the eyes of the boys who lost last night told that story better than any writer ever could. It was especially pronounced in the eyes of any wrestler who lost last night who is a senior. He went to bed last night and shall awaken this morning face-to-face with an unshakable truth: I lose today, it ends today. There are a number of top-flight wrestlers among the fourteen weight classes in this tournament, including quite a few who shall most likely have the opportunity to wrestle in college. But for a lot of these kids, the portion of their life dedicated to competitive wrestling ends when their high school career ends. And for the twelfth graders among them, that end could come as early as today.

I have not played competitive sports since high school. While I was not an athlete who lit the world on fire in any of the sports in which I participated, my favorite sport to play was soccer. I am not a big fellow but I have strong legs. Soccer was a sport that played to my strengths. While I was at W-H, where I played soccer for all four years of high school (J.V. the first two years and Varsity the final two) we were never better than mediocre. We neither competed for nor won any championships. Along the way though we played in some games that still - more than a quarter century later - occupy at least a sliver of my memory. And most of those memories make me smile.

The memory of the end of my soccer career is not one of them. We had a couple of regular season games left to play following our elimination from the State tournament. The final one was at the Hun School in Princeton. Although I was a player who rarely - if ever - came off the field, our coach decided that there was little reason to play the seniors in the final quarter (back then we played four twenty minute quarters rather than halves) of a meaningless game. It made better sense to put all of the underclassmen he had available to him on the field so he could get a look at what they could do. He decided to take a sneak peek at his own future. All these years later I appreciate the logic of what he did - and understand why he did it. I assure you however that sitting on the bench on a miserably cold November afternoon wearing my warm-ups and watching the final few minutes of a significant part of my life pass by right before my eyes I had no appreciation for it at all. I raged over it that afternoon. I raged over it for countless days that followed.

The greatest thing and the worst thing about high-school sports is the same thing: everyone competes but not everyone wins. Last night, Frank won his quarter-final match. His teammate Tom lost his. My old friend Matt's son lost his quarter-final match as well. All three boys are seniors. The hope is that for all of them, the wrestling they do today is not the final act of four-year stand. The reality is that it could be. It is quite a bit of pressure to be thrust upon the shoulders of ones so young. The best thing about it? They have a voice. They will be heard from today - as shall all of the kids at all of the venues across the State. They will have a chance to exert control over their own destiny.

Not total control of course. Just a little bit. But given how badly we do in our efforts to control and to mark time, a little bit of control is about as good as it gets.


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