Saturday, October 3, 2009

one goal to rule them all

It was the 2nd half of the semi-finals in the inter-department soccer tournament. It was 1-1 with little time left and several of us were bleeding. You could feel the simultaneous disbelief and hope among the English department players. My shin was bleeding after diving to cover up an errant ball in front of an empty net. It was only our 4th game together, marking my 4th game of goal keeper experience, ever. We were one of two teams to make it out of our 4 team division, by winning two of our first three games, the 2nd victory coming against the vaunted Finance department. Vince didn't care about anything after that.

"No one expected us to beat them!" he reminded me several times, "No one will remember the champion, but they will remember that the lowly English department defeated the Finance department."

In fact, Vince was so sure we'd lose to the Finance department that he told Ryan and me that he would become an X-tian if we did.

"So, this is like your baptism," Ryan told him at the end of the game. Vince smiled back.

Vince is the most passionate player I've ever seen. If a team could win on sheer emotion, we would just send Vince out there, 1 vs. 11. Every header is followed by a yell, and every on-coming defender is met with a battle cry and a road block. He might not be the most skillful player on the field, but he makes up for it with adrenaline and will. After I dove to save the errant ball in the 2nd half of the semi-finals, Vince screamed, "Yeah!" and picked me up off the ground. That moment was one of the reasons I had grown to love the goalkeeper position. I don't know how I had missed it my whole life. You mean, I get to be the last line of defense? I get to react to shots and use my hands? Put me in! During the first game I had let two goals go in, the first of which was obviously my fault. But I learned and I grew. The next two games I didn't allow any in. Of course, it helped that the fields and goals were smaller than normal size and I can reach my hands above the post. That aside, I felt capable, but I soon experienced the down-side of playing on an island: capability doesn't preclude culpability.

During the final minutes of the tied game, there was a foul just outside my goal box. It was a routine indirect kick. Three of our players lined up as a wall in front of the kicker, several other players marked men in the box, and I sank into my ready position. The only option for the kicker was over the wall and I was ready. The whistle blew, players scurried and jostled. The ball flew over the heads of our defensive wall. I got this, I thought. The ball sank like a slider and I put my hands in between my legs to block it and before the ball arrived I started to think about a counter-attack. I looked up to see where our attackers were so I could get them the... the ball! It hit my hands but didn't stop. It dribbled behind me like an out of gas marathon runner stumbling across the finish line. My teammates turned away. I closed my eyes. Vince. Oh no. And in a moment my luck had run out. The game ended and I apologized to my teammates. Vince later sent me a message to assuage my guilt:

"nice play today, you have saved us from hell many times. we can't stand here to play without you. we're proud of you. remember my friend. we're a team. we win as a team. we lose as a team. we still got one more game to play tomorrow. one more game to win."

The cliches meant more this time than they ever did. Unfortunately, we lost the consolation game. A 1-1 tie that ended in a shoot-out. Our players missed, their shots were perfect corner blasts and I froze like an oak tree in the face of each one. We got 4th place. That night the team met for dinner at the on-campus restaurant with cases of beer to consume. Luckily Ryan and I were able to avoid the binging because we already had other plans. We celebrated with them for about a half hour, made speeches, took pictures. All of the players were either my old students or my current students and most of them are poor students. It was a blessing to be able to have fun with them and show them I cared outside of class, so that when I shush them in class and tell them to do their homework they'll know I still like them.

Ryan and I agreed: it's a gift to be able to have something you love coincide with the Father's plans. I played 5 games in 8 days and loved every bit of it, and through our fun, students were cared for, love was shown, we became closer with Vince. Who knows whether he'll keep his word (I think he will), but I love that he felt the freedom to joke with us about our beliefs. This experience has given me the freedom to dream. I have passions and interests for a reason and it's up to me to dream about them and show up, asking for and expecting opportunities. The Father will do the rest.


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