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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rejoice in the beautiful game

World Cup fever has struck around our house for the past 10 days. I have watched as many games as possible, sometimes altering schedules so we can be home to watch, while trying to maintain some semblance of normal life. I just love watching it all. The excitement of the fans, the amazing skill level, the national pride. I can do without the intentional dives and the flagrant fouls, but I guess that is part of the game, too, although I am glad FIFA is trying to eliminate some of the garbage out there. I found myself home alone screaming the other day when the U.S. scored the second goal to tie the game against Slovenia. We have been trying to get the kids excited about it, too. It can be a hard game to follow on TV, but when played well, it really is a beautiful sport. It's been exciting so far, and we are gearing up for the US-Algeria showdown tomorrow morning. Good thing today is the last day of school. Breakfast at World Cup for our house tomorrow!

I grew up playing soccer. We played year round, indoor and outdoor, school and recreation. All of my siblings played and it was our family game. There were a few years on Thanksgiving that we'd gather our visiting family members and neighbors and friends and "play" while the turkey was cooking. The rules may have been a little different in those games and may have involved full body tackling, but the idea was the same. It was something that brought us all together. A bond that we all shared. We played in the yard, on the beach, in the house. Wherever there was a ball.

Way back in 4th grade, I remember my parents telling me they had signed me up to play soccer when we moved to Signal Mountain, TN from New York. I didn't want to do it. I didn't know if I would be good enough, and I didn't know anyone else. I was a kid (and am an adult, too) that doesn't like the unexpected. Despite enjoying kicking around a soccer ball at home, I was absolutely positive that playing organized soccer was not for me. My parents, who were all the wiser at the time, made me do it because they knew it would be a good way to meet people and to help make the transition easier. And they were right. Some of my strongest and most meaningful friendships were formed on the soccer field. As my early teammates and I grew older and went off to different high schools, we often played against each other, but the camaraderie of having once been teammates always remained. And in the off season from school, we often found ourselves again dressed in the same uniform playing together again. Always teammates.

So, I've been thinking, as I sometimes do when I am trying to make some order of chaos, about these teams and teammates, and the World Cup, and how it relates to our lives today. And I have zeroed in on the idea of the team, and how we all form our own team to help get through our lives. We build a team of players just as a world class soccer team is built, everyone with their own talents to offer, their own roles and jobs, that when all put together, help to bring about success. Every team has a philosophy, a way to manage their play. Some people push hard on offense, others rely more on defense. Each time has a different lineup, and plays the field in their own unique way. Plans can vary depending on the day or situation or the team you are facing. Each team is built with players that fit the ideals of the entire team. You want your team to be made up of selfless players, those who realize the end goal is the team's goal. You admire the variety of skill and level of play each player brings to the field. You try to eliminate the actors, those who throw themselves around for the drama and attention. You find that some players come, play a game or two and move on in an effort to find their best team or a team that is a better fit for their style of play. A core group always remains. Those you trust, those you believe in, those who will drop back and cover.

And as I get older, I have found that the playing field is sometimes quality and other times a little muddy and rocky. The play of game, as with life, is influenced by so many extraneous factors, but you have to keep right on playing. In fact, one of most favorite times to play soccer was in the pouring rain, in piles of mud. Yucking it up with your teammates, covered from head to toe in mud and loving every minute of it. No matter what the circumstances, the team, your team, that you have built over the years, is always standing by ready to play.

My sister, Mary, is supposed to undergo surgery on Thursday where they hope to remove a tumor in her abdomen. They aren't sure they'll be able to do it, and the outcome of the surgery will affect her progress in a clinical trial at the National Cancer Institute at NIH. Please keep Mary in your thoughts and prayers this week. She deserves a break in the right direction.

Be good. Be strong. Go USA!

P.S. The picture is from my junior year of high school when our team won the TN State Championship. Go Irish!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Back in February, we took the kids out to California for school vacation with another family, We rented a house about 45 minutes north of San Diego and flew out there with little planned, only to get to the San Diego Zoo and Legoland. We would plan our days when we got there based on the weather, mood, and level of exhaustion each morning.

For many, many reasons, it was a great trip. We had great travel partners, no expectations to be anywhere or do anything, kids that enjoyed being with each other, lots of laughs, good food, tasty margaritas, plentiful sunshine, and an escape from the New England winter, among other things. It was exactly what we needed.

And why I am thinking about that today, four months later. Actually, I think about the trip a lot, and one particular exchange between the moms the day before we were leaving. We went down the Scripps Aquarium at UCSD in La Jolla, and the two of us found ourselves transfixed by the tank with hundreds of tiny moon jellies. The jellyfish were fluid, tranquil, effortless in that tank. It was almost hypnotic to watch them floating weightlessly around the tank. She looked at me and said that she was going to remind herself of the peacefulness and ease at which the jellyfish were moving through the water the next day when we had to get up at 3:30 a.m. and drive to LA to catch our flight home (where it was snowing). And we did as as we waited line to get through security with six kids, six backpacks, two suitcases, a stroller, accidentally hidden bottles of contraband water, shoes that needed to be taken off and retied, and complaints of thirst and hunger, Remember the jelly fish. And I have many days since then. Like when I heard the new treatment plan for my sister. More simply, when in the checkout line at Market Basket or sitting in traffic with someone behind you that won't stop honking his horn. When trying to deal rationally with irrational people, or to make sense of difficult situations. Become one with the jellies and float!

Warning: I've found in the past couple of weeks that too much "jelly fish living" makes for piles of papers and junk all over the kitchen counters and a list of things to do that is never ending, and "floating through the days without purpose" mentality should be somewhat limited to times of stress and not all day long. It's a relaxation strategy that works best during the times when patience and tolerance seems to be slipping away! Make like a jellyfish and float. Relax. Just let it go.