Believe it or not, there IS a secret to life. And it involves balls.
Balls are just a skin around some air. For some reason, we throw them at each other in a gesture of friendship. They go all the way back to the ancient Egyptians, who invented everything. I still do wonder who decided that a perfect circle is the right thing to toss at someone you like, to show them you want to play.
At every stage of my life there has been a moment where the beings I am with throw balls at or for each other. It’s a universal language, like music or smiling.
When I was but a yout’ my brothers taught me how to throw a ball. And hit one. My brother Jim showed me how to choke up , and stand into my feet, making a square of my body to be able to catch the ball with the bat. If I did it right it the ball would meet the bat almost by magic, the wood vibrating in my hands, exhilarated that I won that moment.
I learned that the choice of tossing it was more about deciding where it was going, sighting it and following that through. The ability to catch it was another miracle of physics, one I’m still working on today.
I watch my nephews play ball- it is an intricate dance, with less concern on success than you might imagine. I remember when their father talked sports with our father, the dizzying array of statistics about men they never met with colorful nicknames. It was my first exposure to that trick of human communication, to be speaking of one thing and saying something else.
When I got my first boon companion, he loved the ball like no other. Moe taught me unbridled joy -endlessly chasing the ball and bringing it back, smiling around it as though he had achieved greatness. No matter how many times you threw it, the same bliss of motion awaited you as you watched him go.
When I lived in Downtown Boston, the local basketball court was filled with young Michael Jordans and Kobe Bryants- smooth in their moves, fluid in their passing, skipping gravity with nary a thought. I would watch them through the chainlink, imagining being able to effortlessly pass and throw.
One of the department heads I worked with was a great guy- from England tho, where I am unshocked to hear they don’t have basketball. Shorts would be too short. So he’d hit 40 without ever playing one on one . We were pretty much miserable failures at it, having watched too many “feel good” movies on it. My court name was “Sugar Cube” and his was “Limey Squeeze”. We tried to argue about something and discovered that we were in agreement, so I taught him how to play horse instead. We worked in a highly technical environment where I always felt at a disadvantage with my puny county college degree- the half hour or so we spent where I was teaching him something really helped me when I needed to ask about something way above my pay grade.
Whenever I want to connect with someone now, I toss them something. It tells me who they are quickly- do they reach for it? Throw it back without missing a beat? Or flail for it, clown it up with an exaggerated effort? It tells me how to approach them as a person.
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