On our way to my older son Eli's baseball game yesterday, he and I began to chat.
"So," I said, "your team is doing great this year!" I enthused.
He stopped and looked up at me quizzically, his face scrunched into the classic "duh" expression.
"We haven't won one game..." he said.
Oops. I laughed, caught out for not having paid close enough attention.
"Well, you've had fun, right?" I said.
"Yeah," he said.
I shrugged. "I really don't care about winning or losing," I said.
He shrugged too. "Yeah, me neither."
I struggle with this all the time, this idea of not caring, of not wanting to make besting the competition a huge, important priority. I know that it is a fact of life, that most situations demand that there be a winner and a loser, but I cannot reconcile myself to it. It just feels too terrible. Why can't we all win?
I thought of this as I sat on a blanket in the shade, barely glancing up at the game as it was played. I have more than a little A.D.D. and I find it hard to focus when I look at a field full of moving people. At least, that's my excuse. I try to catch the times that Eli comes up to bat, if he should catch a ball in the field. But I don't want to look too closely. If he should strike out (which he sometimes does) or miss a ball (which can happen) I feel bad for him but I don't want to let on, don't want to give him any sense that it matters. Cause, in the scheme of things, it really doesn't.
There came a point, though, after a long, long while of sitting, relaxing, that I picked up on a new vibe. The team had been losing pretty badly, the other team far more fiercely competitive than ours, the coaches chastising players in a way Eli's gentle coach would not. We laughed over on the blanket, calling our team the Bad News Bears. But none of us seemed to mind. It's all for sport, all in a day's fun.
But the teammates started whooping, so much so I that I was actually compelled to rise from my blanket and see what was up. It was close, it turns out. Eli's team had come from behind and actually had a chance to win. They were all abuzz, excited, slapping each other on the backs, mini versions of Major Leaguers, doing what they imaged Major Leaguers might do.
I went back to my blanket perch, but with renewed focus on the game. Within a minute, a boy I know from Eli's school, a sweet, sweet smiling kid who has had a very hard time, whose Dad died suddenly last year, who has been held back a grade, whose baseball jersey can barely button over his big belly, slammed one hard, well into the outfield, well into victory.
I won't soon forget the smile on his face as he rounded the bases, as he came into home to the high-fives and hugs of his teammates. I was up in a flash, on my feet, and, with tears in my eyes, I hugged this kid, this kid I have in the past coaxed across the pool, up from his back on the ice skating rink, a kid who, despite his girth, is incredibly graceful and athletic, who has incredible promise and potential. He had won the game for his team and it was so, so great.
As I jumped up and down, screamed to Eli's teammates what a great job they had done, cheered them as they cheered themselves, I had to laugh at myself, at what a hypocrite I was. Sometimes, winning does matter, it means a lot, it is a huge reward for efforts expended and it makes people feel great, gives them hope for the greatness they can achieve if they try.
I gave this boy who had helped his team to victory a gold star, quietly, surreptitiously as I didn't have enough for all. But he deserved it. He should remember this moment. I tried not to notice the disappointed faces of the other team, their angry coach. Sometimes, you just have to see the bright side of a big win.