Home Ice

22 10 2012

Home Ice by the late Jack Falla is a wonderful book.  I highly recommend it to everyone.  It’s sort of a memoir of a hockey-infatuated father, husband, writer who is best able to express himself and point out his flaws in relation to the ice rink or a frozen pond.

* * * 

I gave all my hockey gear away on Saturday.  This marks the end of the line for me.  I had just finished Home Ice the week before, but I have known that it is time for me to move on for months now.  I guess the thing that really drove this point home for me was last month, when I got a text message from the goalie of the 18+ inline team I’ve played a few seasons with since 2009.  

As much as I enjoyed a few more stolen seasons of hockey, and as much as I loved the exhilaration from skating up the rink and executing a perfect pass or a tip-in, it was time.  I’ve pulled a groin muscle on my work softball team last year, and I think I bruised a rib last year out at the rinks in Corona.

My brother and I have always relished the competition and measurement offered by sport, but he’s been a good example to me in the last few years of how to transition from needing to compete to truly desiring to succeed.  And for him as well as me, success is becoming more and more clearly defined by what happens during the workday, during my downtime, and how I serve others at home and at church.

Taking hours each Saturday (and spending plenty of money besides) just to slake my sporting thirst is no longer permissible to me.  I started feeling guilty when I realized I didn’t care much about the people I was playing hockey with, didn’t care much who saw me succeed.  I really found myself mainly caring about what I did relative to what I thought I was capable of.  That scared me.  If it’s woodworking or writing or running, pushing yourself to excellence is an admirable thing that requires dedication and hard work.  However, what I saw was something twisted and self-absorbed beyond what my sense of responsibility could let me get away with any longer.  

It was fun, for a time.  Rarely, it was a joy.  I still won’t forget the smell of stale sweat and bearing lubricant as I hopped off the bench to take my first shift wearing a crisp #7 Minnesota North Stars Neal Broten jersey in 2011.  I scored two goals that game, and I started thinking that I was “breaking in” the jersey, finally getting it ready for what jerseys are made for: playing.

“In life as in hockey, you’ve got to play hurt,” Falla says in Home Ice.  He’s right.  You have to accomplish  things without the benefit of comfort or consolation, because those things are a distraction far more frequently than they are a reward for a job well done.  And once we find ourselves seeking comfort and consolation as ends in themselves, we wind up working at the same place for thirty years because it’s easy.  We increasingly devote ourselves to vices and amusements to satisfy urges that we used to have the strength to temper.  We become bodybuilders who only work on the glamour muscles, working all day long to stave off insecurity while the most vital elements of our well-being and self-defense grow flabby and impotent.

So I gave up playing hockey.  At least for the future.

Of course, after reading Home Ice, I would rather skate by myself on a 40-foot backyard rink at 6 in the morning than almost anything else.