I'm a Midwesterner, and, like any Midwesterner worth her salt, I was raised on Big Ten sports. The Big Ten was THE CONFERENCE, and the sports that give me all the warm feelings and metaphors and life lessons are football and basketball. HAWKEYE football and basketball, to be precise. This is what I knew. This is what I understood. Football and basketball MADE SENSE.
Imagine my shock when I moved East, and, minding my own business, wandered to the football field after school one day and encountered a field full of boys in light protective paddling, identities concealed under storm trooper helmets, running around ACTIVELY BEATING EACH OTHER WITH STICKS. They called it lacrosse. I called it crazy.
I fell in love with one of those armed storm troopers, and for the past 25 years, I've lived as a stranger in a strange land, stumbling around in a confused daze in a world called LAX. There are heads and butts and sticks and stringing kits and Brine and Warrior and cleats and all sorts of things I buy that mean nothing to me. My learning curve has been steep and I've not assimilated well. At the risk of being kicked out of lacrosse-loving Maryland, let me explain myself.
Unpopular Opinion Number One:
Lacrosse is not my language. I don't understand it.
Here's what I know: Midfielder. Attack. Defensemen. Goalie. Warding off. Ground ball. On our first date, when I was fresh-faced and innocent, Jason drew a field on a napkin and explained the basic premise of the game to me. Twenty-five years later, I'm embarrassed to admit that this still constitutes the entirety of my lacrosse knowledge. I just don't understand it.
Here's what I don't know: Everything else. Slashing. Cross-check. Crease. Slides. Riding. Restraining line. EMO. A circle. Go to X. These are words I hear. I may even yell them from time to time, but I'm like an American in Paris on the sidelines. I may use a little bit of lingo, but that DOESN'T MEAN I KNOW WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT.
Unpopular Opinion Number Two:
Lacrosse feels unsafe and aggressive. More on this later, but this particular sport, having not grown up with it, feels SCARY. Watching my people play involves cringing, worry, and the aforementioned confusion. We spend the majority of our time socializing our children in one way; to be kind, to be gentle, imploring them not to hit, not to push, and to SHARE and to USE YOUR WORDS. But, in the next moment, WE ARM THEM WITH METAL PIPES AND TELL THEM TO HIT AND PUSH AND SHOVE AND FORCEFULLY TAKE WHAT SOMEONE ELSE HAS, and it's okay because it's on a sports field. Strange.
Unpopular Opinion Three:
I am ashamed to admit this. I have four people that I love and adore that play this sport, and I haven't tried very hard to meet them in their world. The game and the culture around it feels aggressive to me, and, because of that, I've avoided truly engaging. I haven't worked very hard to find the beauty, the redemption, the GRACE that exists inside this sport.
That needs to change.
I've been blinded by the swinging sticks and failed to see the bigger picture.
Louise Senft was my game changer. Louise is the mother of Archer, a lacrosse player at my sons' school, who was paralyzed in an accident last summer. (More on Archer, Louise, and their incredible story here). Her words changed it all for me.
We all know the play of any game, even at a high level, is never perfect. In fact, while it’s the moments of perfection that draw us to watch the game, it’s the moments of human error that keep us on the edge of our seats. Isn’t that crazy, but it’s true. Sports is such a celebration of humanity. The flawless divine moments live side by side with human fallibility. Have you ever thought about that? It’s really true. And, it’s such a metaphor for life. The divine inspires the flawed to have compassion and forgiveness, to be humble. I think of the many times as a parent and with other parents, living out our own humanity on the sidelines, we were always quick to forgive in an instant one player’s mistake, even a big one like a turnover, because we knew if it wasn’t our child that moment, it could be, and probably was at a prior game or might be in a future game. We wanted to be able to begin again. Clean slate. That takes forgiveness. The exercise of this forgiveness makes us better parents. It created more connection and safety to be human, for our kids to be themselves and to grow, never shunned or excluded because of a few flaws, and for us on the sidelines to be kinder and softer. Lacrosse has had that effect on me at least. Maybe the game has even made us better people. Who knows. Because just like the kids on the field, we make mistakes and fall too, and we need to get up again and keep going. It’s much easier to begin again when you know you are forgiven. That a huge aspect I think of beginning again. To forgive others, and to forgive ourselves and to ask for forgiveness.
May 21, 2016
All of these years, I missed the lesson lacrosse has been trying to teach me. It was right there, just like in football or basketball or any other sport. It was there. I let ignorance and fear and SWINGING STICKS keep me from seeing the bigger, more beautiful picture.
Yesterday, Jason took the big boys to watch the NCAA Championship game. I stayed home.
But I decided to watch.
I saw goals made and goals saved. I saw young men engaged in a worthy struggle. I saw them try, fail, get up and try again. I saw players making mistakes and having to own those mistakes. I saw planning, evidence of practice, and precision. I saw coaches leading with encouragement and love. I saw young men working together, supporting each other, toward a common goal under great adversity. I also saw some swinging sticks, but somehow, they were less scary.
In an interview after the game, the North Carolina goalie attributed the win to the love of his coaches. He said the coaches weren't just coaches. They were fathers.
Sports did that. LACROSSE did that.
There's more to basketball than dribbling. More to football than tackling. More to lacrosse than checking.
I just needed to open my eyes and see it.