Hello to All,
I’m just back from my long run and am sitting on my favorite chair icing my leg trying to keep ahead of my irritable IT band. I spent much of my run ruminating over the past week and I am filled with a devastating poignancy that only comes through grief and the true recognition of our impermanence. There is an unwritten rule that parents should never have to bury their children and I watched that decree broken this week. My heart cracked open as a family had to face the inexplicable loss of their son and brother at the tender age of nineteen.
The father of this family, Don, was my hockey coach for almost a decade but I hadn’t seen him much over the past few years. His daughter and I were line mates; with me at the center and she on the wing. Sharing the ice and locker rooms for those many long cold winter hours, we came to know each other intimately without words, but through action. I always knew where she would be on the ice and could send a pass to an opening, knowing she would be there to catch it.
I stopped by the funeral home to pay my respects and looked into the tear-stained eyes of my coach. We embraced long and hard and I wanted so badly to absorb some of his pain. He said, “I want something good to come of this, I want to get back to coaching hockey.” I replied, “The kids of today need you, they need your time, your energy, your wisdom. I want to see you back on that ice.” With his voice cracking he answered, “I am so proud of you. I want you to go back to Everest and keep inspiring kids.” My heart leapt at those words that children and players most want to hear, “I am so proud of you,” and I silently gave gratitude to all who had said those words to me when I most needed to hear them. With eyes glistening, we stepped back and teased our hearts apart. We began to reminiscence about hockey and I reflected back to him, the lessons he had taught me about the game.
This morning as I ran, I thought about how those hockey adages were indeed, instructions for life. Don used to get so frustrated when we would “dipsy doodle” on the blue line. The blue line demarcates the neutral zone from the offensive zone and must be gained with all players behind the puck. Don wanted us to gain the zone and then begin our fancy plays and moves but often a player would try “a move” near the blue line and put other teammates offside. Don would jump up and down in frustration as we appeared addicted to our dipsy doodles (perhaps a close relative of the Vanilla Dip).
This morning, I took this lesson to mean, “Stay focused on moving towards the goal.” Recognize that there is a time and place for fancy showy moves but also a time for clear-headed straightforward effort. By gaining the zone with efficiency, there is more time and opportunity to set up a strategy that will lead to scoring.
Don also used to remind us, “It never hurts to throw the puck at the net.” If I had the puck and no one in position to receive a pass and I was under pressure, just shoot! From wherever I was on the ice. Even directly to the side of the goal. And you know, it works. I have probably scored fifty goals using this advice and I credit Don each time. In life beyond the rink, what does this tell me? When I’m lost as for what to do, don’t worry about it. Throw some effort towards my goal and something good will often come of it. I don’t always need to see the path through, sometimes what counts is faith and action–even if that action seems absurd or pointless.
The other piece of advice that Don dished out was “Support the puck carrier.” When a player carries the puck up the ice, she should have at least two outlets to whom to pass. It was our job to “skate off the puck and go to open ice.” He taught us to form triangles from which to mount our attack on the opposing goal. Our line mates came to understand, again without words, where we would be on the ice and could count on us to get there. Yesterday, at the funeral, teammates, players, friends, and family came together to offer support and love.
So, over the next months as I prepare for the heights of Kilimanjaro, I will keep Don and his family in my thoughts and prayers. I will heed the lessons he taught me about the game of hockey and pass them onto others as I train and climb because as I understand it this morning, ice is ice, whether horizontal or vertical, and a coach is always a coach.
Have a good week,