Friday, March 02, 2007

March madness--win or lose

I prefer endings--happy or tragic--that are scripted, or scored. I mean a musical score, not "scored at the buzzer."

This weekend, however, is the Lutheran School State Basketball Tournament here in Illinois, and my son, the eighth-grade basketball star, is putting his dream on the line. He and his teammates are playing hard. They have their eye on the championship.

I get scared even typing that word, for fear I jinx something. The team won this afternoon. There is more basketball tomorrow morning, tomorrow afternoon, Sunday. If they keep on winning, the next game is harder. If they lose, it's harder still.

I am a pre-Title IX girl. Didn't play sports in high school. Wasn't much good in grade school volleyball. Can't imagine throwing myself into win-or-lose jeopardy in front of bleachers filled with fans.

Why? Because I hate to lose. Which, of course, is why I should have played sports--to learn that I could lose and survive, because tomorrow is another day.

Winning is fleeting, too. How long does the glow last? After a while, the trophy gets shoved to the back of the shelf. The grade school champions, and the members of all the other teams, will have to finish their homework, turn in their uniforms, and start all over again in high school.

Yet remarkable moments live on. Think of those passages in life when everything suddenly comes together. The baby is born and in your arms. The words flow from your fingertips onto the paper or the screen. The music is in tune, in tempo, and filled with whole ideas and emotion. The angel has stirred the waters. Her presence stops clocks, or slows them. The air is clear and the mind grasps all 360 degrees and the infinite depth of reality.

I have known these moments in scripted and scored performances, in labor before a birth and in labor at the keyboard. My son knows them on the basketball court. He sees the openings, he sees the ball, his timing in those moments is perfect.

The afterglow of such success warms your spirit for days. You can feel the magic, feel the rhythm even years later.

Losing makes me want to hide in the back of a deep, deep closet, behind the scratchy woolen coats, among the dust bunnies and the odd shoes. I do not want to do homework, or housework. I do not see how to return to the land of the living, having learned the rough and tough truth that many, many things do not turn out happily.

Mountaintop experiences and time spent in the bitter pit can both lead to disorientation and listlessness. Returning to plain living is hard. Next week there will be a letdown in our household after the many weeks of basketball practice and many hours of staying cool, calm, and focused (mostly).

Two of the boys on our team came to today's game from their grandfather's funeral. (One of these kids is a starter--his presence is critical.) Funerals, it seems to me, are mountaintop moments, even though they are about the hard, tough truth that we all must die. Heaven opens when we gather to look death in the face, and God's mansions seem very close to earth. The angels gather, and the Spirit hovers above those whose grief overflows. We see, as St. Paul says, through a mirror dimly, but in such moments, we do see the blurry substance of God's immortal, substantial promises.

God protect the winners and the losers, the joyful as well as the disappointed.

Go Vikings! Go Grace!

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