Monday, September 26, 2011

Passing Time

We huddle and I turn my back to the defense.  On my left palm I trace out the straight line route with my finger. “On the count of three, go long.”  We break huddle and approach the scrimmage line where the defense, a single nine year old, awaits.

“Ready set - Hut 1, hut 2, hut 3!”

Off runs the receiver, my son -- another nine year old, and with him, step for step, the defender, as if anticipating the “go long” play.  Someone hesitates and the receiver gains a step and I loft a pass just over the defender’s outstretched hands into the receiver’s.  Touchdown!  Except we aren’t really counting touchdowns.  But it’s still a touchdown!

We switch every four plays.  As Quarterback, I mix up the play calling each time tracing the route on my left palm with right forefinger.
“Go out 5 steps then turn left.”
“Go our 3 steps, stop, turn and I’ll fake it, then go long.”
And there is always at least one “go long” each set of four plays.

And so it goes as the game swings back and forth with my older son and neighborhood friend.

Going long is always my favorite play.   It’s the riskiest, and least complicated at the same time.  And if successful, it’s the remembered play.  The plays involving “running to the left, touching the fence, then cutting across,” and so forth, may seem like they’ll be cool when called, but rarely are executed properly.  And even if successful, are only noteworthy for their complexity, not the beauty and simplicity of a well-thrown and caught long ball.  And when playing one-on-one football with Dad as steady QB, “just go long” gets called a lot.

And on we played. . .

Walking from the field after the game I stopped in my tracks as memories of similar games fired through my neurons.

Was it really 35 years ago I was on the receiving end of those thrown balls from my Dad?”  I said to myself.

And there I was, as if it were yesterday, in my child-hood front yard, catching passes from my dad as my neighbor played defense. And just like that, three-and-a-half decades were compressed into the fleeting moment it is.

They say your life flashes before your eyes the moment before you die.  Who needs to wait until death for that to happen?  It is happening all the time.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


“Do you go to church?” he asked in his deep, West African francophone accent.

I paused.  Then turned.

“Yes, I do.”
“What church do you go to?”
“The Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring.  Do you know it?  It’s up New Hampshire Avenue.”
“Mmmm, yes, I think I know that one.”
“Do you go to church?”
“Yes, yes.  I go to a Christian church.  A protestant church.”

And we talked about church for a while.  That we both grew up Catholic.  His aunt, he thinks, goes to a Unitarian Universalist church and he attended a couple times and liked it – good people, he said.  And he asked what do Unitarian Universalists believe in.  And I tried my best to explain:  Inherent worth and dignity of all humans; the interconnected web of life.  That we are all seekers of our own truths on our own paths and the community draws from human wisdom in all forms, from many faith traditions, to inform our journeys.  Some find it through the teachings of Jesus, some through the example of the Buddha, others by being close with nature.

“But what about redemption?  What about the redemption of mankind?” he asked, now with more intensity.


“We all want to do good things,” he continued, “but it doesn’t always happen that way.  We make mistakes; we do bad things.  Why do we do that?”  He went on a little more then stopped.

“What is it that will happen after I die? “ he finally asked. “That is the question.”

Then breathed in and breathed out audibly. “Indeed. That is the question,” I softly replied.

I told him this question weighs heavily for me; that my wife died a little over a year ago; that it is a confounding question.  I told him that after she died some would say God had a plan.  And I said I cannot abide a God who plans that way.

His countenance changed.  He did not know and was so sorry.  He looked me right in the eyes. And though his face showed sadness, his eyes gleamed.  His eyes smiled at me.  He quoted scripture – the bad days of the past will be returned as so many good days in the future.  Someone will come into my life and continue walking down the path.  He said he’d pray for me and that I was blessed.  Tears blurred my eyes as a warmth filled me.  We hugged and said goodbye.

Driving away I realized he was a messenger; a prophet.  The man installing the new HVAC system in my renovated house demonstrated love and compassion and brought me The Word.  It was only a moment, but an authentic human connection with another.

With the shadows of the past decade enveloping, I became aware of a chink in its dark armor.  Perhaps there is a way out.  I felt awake.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Temporarys

We just moved.  We are renting a house in the next neighborhood over from where we live while our house undergoes major renovation.  Our rental is a cute little post-war brick rambler in the middle of a middle-class neighborhood.   I’m sure the real estate listing would include the word “cozy” in its description. We’ve been here three weeks.  I’ve met a couple neighbors so far.  Nice folks.  Here is how we meet:
“Hi, I’m John.”
“Hi, I’m Alex.  Did you guys just buy that house?”
“No, we are just renting.”


“Yeah, we are here for a few months while our house is renovated.”


Then come a couple questions and details about the renovation, how long have you lived here, a couple pointers about the neighborhood, etc.

“Well, welcome to the neighborhood!”
“Yeah – thanks, um, Alex.  Right? See you around!”

It’s all friendly and not pretentious but there is tonal deflation as the conversation unfolds.  First they realize we rent and this may not be a permanent thing.  Then my admission that we are here less than half-a-year confirms it.  And it’s during that second pause that I imagine each of us performing the same calculation: is this someone I really feel like making a commitment to get to know?  Become friends only to leave?

There is a practical aspect to this.  We modern Americans with our busy lives contain a fixed quantity of time and whatever our social circles are, big or small, are what they are.  Adding to the circle will necessarily push against the walls of our time containers.

But maybe there is something else.  When we join together as friends, or neighbors, or more – as lovers and partners – we tend to operate on an assumption of permanence.  Intellectually we know all things have beginnings and endings, but moving that intellectual knowledge to emotional awareness creates hesitations.  I hesitate to take the energy to make the new friend when I know, with certainty, that it will end. And the impermanence of a temporary rental calls the question.  There can really be no doubt, no emotional doubt, that we will say goodbye.  Even to just move less than a mile a way.

I imagine for many of us this sensation (fear?) creeps into other relationships, or prevents others.  Looking back, I recognize this in myself early on.  Those first awkward, tentative, steps towards dating in high school were hampered by this internal fear.

“I want to ask her out, but we are already really good friends.  What if she says ‘no’?”

A lens of 30 or so years brings this whole dynamic into a different focus and my unconscious reasoning of the risks is very different.  That is, risking a current friendship for something more intimate vs. keeping that friendship, as is, and risking not having intimacy.

And though I calculate those risk outcomes differently now, those core fears still linger, (must not they?) as most fears do, rattling around somewhere inside.  And what is that fear exactly?  Loneliness? Losing someone? The expected pain of grief?  What if she does say ‘yes’ but then we break up later?  That pain is to great to face, better not get too close, and so on.

Having experienced the true searing, white hot agony of grief, (not just imagining it) dragged along a better appreciation of grief’s inevitability.  And I like to think of myself as someone, now, with little to loose and it is better to risk intimacy than not.  Far better. And yet, even in small ways, like the potential to make a new, though temporary, friend, I hesitate.

Still more miles to walk.