With both fists clenched, Zeke screamed “Oh My God!” as another spider-kneed first grader heel-kicked an accidental goal between two orange cones. Zeke, now the hapless goalie, could not have blocked this random kick. Hence, a scuffed and battered soccer ball scooted wide to his right and rolled on through.
Then came tight tendons in Zeke’s neck. Some name calling, accusations, and finger-pointing peppered the mix. At last, his beleaguered band huddled around him in a circle that spoke of loss. A lot rode on this game and, whatever might have transpired before that fateful shot now vanished into a psychic sink hole. The game collapsed into nothing more than its one-to-nothing score and the muttered stories arising from a huddled pack of dejected boys. The bell rang, kids lined up, and Zeke along with his teammates began the long march indoors.
I pulled the goalie aside just before he entered the building and asked him what made the game that important. “How come? How come you need to win that much?” He made eye contact with me and his brown eyes welled up. “Zeke, have you ever tried playing just for fun?”
Had fun been the goal, then Zeke missed plenty. He had overlooked curlie-haired Kylie’s delightful hop through the middle of the playing field. He had paid no attention to Eddy as he ducked to evade high-speed balls whooshing above his shaved head. He paid no attention when two teammates dropped out of position at mid-game and commenced to draw chalk figures on the blacktop. Instead, he filled moments between errant balls with shouted bursts of “get out of the way” or “move! move!” No laugh. No giggle. No smile. Mostly, a grimace. Someone would have to lose for Zeke to have his win.
My words to him spilled out and tumbled away. As I spoke to him, he held my gaze for an instant, and then dropped back into his line. I spoke a foreign language. By the next recess, he would be back in the mix, wanting to win, hating the loss, clenching and shouting, believing it mattered.
If you look at a child’s game through an adult’s eye, you might say oh, that’s just a game, mattering little in the scheme of greater things. But such a stance would show how far you have journeyed from your own high stakes childhood moments. In that younger time, less separation existed between real and pretend. In truth, a tender expanse of opportunity and discovery awaits, asking nothing other than to be seen. We need take no action other than to look up from self-inflicted, furrowed realms into which we have poured our attention.
Shimmering glory lives just outside the blinders of wins and losses. Un-prospected, boundless opportunity. Even the chance to catch a glimpse of what mystics call the un-glimpse-able. But that may be too much for now, little Zeke. You might have to grind teeth in coming to know what you don’t know. Sometimes, that’s the way it has to be.