Memories of the games of my youth are laced with gold. Learning to push myself, focus, and work with others were just a few of the lessons I learned through victory and defeat. I learned that I could be a winner or a loser and still be just...me.
Relationships made in sports were impenetrable, but not everlasting. Walking down the corridors of my horrid school, I would see teammates, and be warmed in the memories of what we did together, and in the dreams of what we might do again. Anything that could make me feel good about myself in such a wretched place was a miracle, and also, a lesson.
When things at home went bad, I spent all my time playing. It didn't matter with who, I was out the door and running, jumping, climbing, throwing, doing anything I could to feel the rush of physical accomplishment, and have the ability to spread my wings and jump into the empty space where my potential waited to catch me. It didn't matter how much my mom screamed, how little my dad paid attention. I had proof I was special.
Walking in potential was something I took for granted, unfortunately. I didn't realize that there would not always be games to play, that the end of the last game might be the end of the last game I would play. I don't even remember when that was, and I feel like I should. I feel like I should have made some type of document, listing the games, wins, losses, achievements and failures of the sports of my youth. I would gladly trade all of the yearbooks I ever received, if I still had them, for a list of all the times I dared to step up and on to the field of play.
It takes a special kind of courage to dare to play a sport, to put your body in a position where it could get hurt, where it might fail, or maybe, unwittingly, soar. My body proved to me, on more than one occasion, that it knew better. My arm, in reflex to a ball zipping near my head that I had not yet seen, would shoot out to catch it, sometimes pulling my legs out from under me, with the thinking part of my body left only to look in awe at the ball in my mitt. Many is the time I made more freethrows in a game than even I thought possible, or threw the football further than anyone thought my small frame could muster.
Playing sports proved to me that I was more than I thought I could ever be. It showed me how spectacular my body could be if I gave it the chance. I discovered more joy in using my body well than worrying for a second about how it looked. I valued strength, speed and stamina above all things. Dexterity was a constant focus. Throwing a ball exactly where I wanted it to land was one of my proudest achievements.
I am old now, and I use the lessons of the body of my youth. I don't participate in sports, but I do push myself to see what I am capable of. I still get that joy, that rush of understanding just how much my body is doing for me without my mind participating. I know that it is a part of my happiness, my identity.
Whatever the engagement, I am attentive. I revel in the joy my body can bring me. Play has saved my life and elevated my level of awareness. In play, I wear expansive potential like a cloak. In play, I find comfort, joy, love, and purpose. In play, I discover myself, over and over, unveil new levels of ability, and with that, new horizons on which to ruminate.
We live in a time when it is a rebellious act to be loving, or show compassion, when it is more acceptable to be ashamed of our bodies than to celebrate them, when money and profit is held above all things, including human life.
In play, I rebel. In play, I fight against the tide that tells me to fear, to hate, to be consumed by the appearance of my body, rather than its function. In play, I can hear the resentment, watch the pain, smell the solitude, and still know that I am special.