Mindfulness and Hockey
I have something to admit. I am not really a hockey fan. Well, let me rephrase that…I was not really a hockey fan, that is, until these playoffs in Raleigh and Edmonton. I have some explaining to do. Especially to one Creampuff, a Canadian lady whom I “met” two weeks ago or so. She just posted a hilarious blog entry about how she single-handedly helped the Edmonton Oilers win the Stanley Cup against the Philadelphia Flyers.
So, I need to explain. My issues with hockey are as follows. First, I can’t see the puck. It moves too quickly for me to know what is going on, and then as the camera follows it on television, I end up with a kind of vertigo as my head spins and rolls with the camera.
Secondly, I think that anyone who is able to ice skate should receive an award just for that. I went ice-skating in 1979 when I was in school in France. After twenty minutes of lacing up the skates, I made one full revolution around the rink, which took about 20 minutes as well, and then went back to my bench, removed my skates and never have been on the ice again. I can fall down just fine by myself, thank you, especially when I am drunk, like I was that night after a bottle of cheap but delicious local red wine. I don’t need ice and skates to crack my skull open.
My true favorite sport is basketball, but then I grew up in North Carolina with UNC, NC State, Duke and Wake Forest all creating an environment where amateur sports rule. When the first professional sports teams came to North Carolina, they failed because there was such support for the amateur college teams that the pro teams didn’t have a chance. So, we have had the Hornets, the Bobcats, the Panthers and maybe even some that I don’t recall, none of which ever won a championship. They have had to compete with UNC which has five National Basketball championships, NC State with two, and Duke with four.
So why am I excited about this hockey team? Well, for several reasons, I guess. It is summer and the universities are on break. There is something truly touching about watching the fans sing both “O! Canada” and “The Star Spangled Banner” before these games and then: there is Edmonton...or Edmontonians.
In 1996, I thought I was dying and I signed up for a two week cruise to the Caribbean on an RSVP cruise. I was going alone, so I signed up to share a cabin with a stranger. When I got to Miami and boarded the ship, the SS Seabreeze, I met my assigned cabin mate, Chuck, from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He was a skinny little fellow who ended all of his sentences in “eh”. We became fast friends.
About two days into the cruise, I was fishing out the meds from my bag when I noticed Chuck watching. I turned to him and said “I really hate having to take these things, but I have been HIV positive since 1985.” As soon as the words left my mouth, Chuck began to cry, huge tears welling from his eyes. As it turned out, he also thought that he was dying, and had lost his life partner, Gene, a few years before. We ended up sitting down to talk, and he pulled out pictures of himself with Gene. I was shocked to see two gorgeous, healthy men, weighing in at about 180 pounds of muscle, not the 130 or so that I saw before me. Chuck was really sick, I realized.
When the first week of the cruise ended, we were told to disembark and that we would be assigned new cabin-mates for the next week of the trip. Chuck and I went to the management and protested, but learned that the only way we could continue to share a cabin was to fork out $100 US each, which we did without hesitation despite a glare or two at the guys from the cruise company. We finished up our cruise a week later, and continued to keep in touch.
The next year, a week after Hurricane Fran had come through the area, Chuck came to spend a week with me in Orange County. I was supposed to go visit him in Edmonton as soon as possible, but things happened, we were unable to coordinate a visit and I never made it up. In 1999, I turned 40 and threw myself a huge party. I mailed out the invitations early. I never heard from Chuck, but just figured that he couldn’t make it down and I understood. One night while sleeping at about 2 a.m., the phone rang and I ran to answer it. It was Chuck’s sister. She called to tell me that Chuck had died in December and that she had gone through his papers to discover my invitation for the party in March. It had taken her two months to get through all the personal effects, but she knew that he would have wanted me to know. I was sad to hear the news, but at the same time, I knew that Chuck had rejoined Gene and that he was happy. That was the thing he most wanted in life when we had met. Eerily, I was watching the news about a year later and heard that the SS Seabreeze had gone down off the coast at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, during a winter storm. It says in this article that it was lost off Virginia. It was like a symbolic end to a brief but touching story.
About three weeks ago, I met RoRo, a.k.a. Creampuff, from Edmonton, when I hosted the Carnival of Bent Attractions. We have been exchanging emails and blog comments ever since and the fun has escalated with each game in this playoff. Tonight, I told her a lie. I told her that I was going to have my usual pre-hockey game pork-chops as part of my ritual. Instead, I ratcheted up my hex by eating chicken livers, a more powerful symbolic pagan body part, I would well imagine. Anyway, we have had a great time joking with each other through all seven games about our pre-game rituals.
As I ate my dinner tonight, watching the game, I suddenly realized that RoRo had contributed to making this one of those moments in life that I will always remember for as long as I live…the kind that we often expect from close friends or relatives, but that take us by complete surprise when they come from kindred strangers. I almost choked on a chicken liver as my eyes filled with tears in the recognition of that special, although vague and distant bond that I now have with my new stranger/friend. This is a concept, like “saudade” in Portuguese, a term that defies perfect translation, but which includes an idea of homesickness, a longing, a warm remembrance and other things all mixed together. We need a term in English to describe the stranger that tugs at our heart from across a border and thousands of miles. It might make us a more accepting culture if we acknowledge the cross-cultural friendships that flourish in our lives rather than seeking to acknowledge the cultural differences of people in our world.
I can not stand to watch the game and remain zen, so I am actually typing this as I listen to the game in the background. The Hurricanes are up 2-0 right now on home ice, and I have to say, the fans and the team seem to be really, really wound up for a win. I can’t predict the outcome and in fact, recognize that what is happening in Raleigh is only a game. Whoever wins, wins and I congratulate both teams for taking this playoff to the ultimate game of the season. What hockey has done this year, more importantly for me, is to cement in my mind a new friendship with Creampuff.
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