It took me a long time to realize that I grew up an athlete.
For some reason, it never struck me that practicing ballet from age six to seventeen (and studying modern dance in graduate school) constituted athleticism. I only realized it recently after I’d read about hockey players and the physical routine they go through to play their sport. Reading about hockey, I realized that I comprehended the players totally — their daily discipline, their commitment to pushing past pain and physical limits, the difficulty of learning certain moves, the joy of attaining them.
“Why do I understand this so well?” I asked myself in great puzzlement. I guess I proved that the athletic stereotype is true — sometimes I’m not the brightest. But then I smacked my head and realized that I grew up pushing my body just as hard.
I have to thank myself for working so hard for so long. I am not now that strength which in the old days let me move below heaven and above earth, but my body retains the possibility of regaining some of it. I exercise reasonably often. Mostly I’m amused when I look down and see a body that no longer can dance ballet, but that’s what happens when you form your opinion of your body when you were a fourteen-year-old chronic dancer.
So, hockey. For a while I’ve found the most inner peace watching, listening to, and reading about, hockey. I’m not sure where I found it before, which troubles me. Maybe I had no space at all in which I lost myself in something else. Or maybe this sense of losing myself isn’t peace so much as escapism.
I don’t know?
Over Thanksgiving, my father-in-law asked me why I liked hockey. I stared at him for a moment with an empty mind, because honestly, there’s no rhyme or reason for passion about something.
“Because it’s awesome,” I said finally, making stuff up as I went. “It’s the gracefulness of figure skating, the difficulty of soccer, and the danger of football, all on this slippery surface. There’s nothing like it.”
He didn’t buy my answer, but mostly because (he said) I was the last person he’d ever suspect would enjoy the game. He’s somewhat right, the real answer wasn’t any of that.
Watching Hockey is watching deadly choreography, a modern dance set to metal, a desperate scramble on a tricky surface over the fate of something that ultimately doesn’t matter at all. It’s such an intense metaphor for life that I can’t look away. Somewhere outside of that rink, whole universes exist that don’t care about whether the puck hits the net, and yet these young men are staking their lives and health on it anyway.
Bless this painful game for bringing me closer to the truth of Kharma Yoga — to watching it embodied by men who strive as hard as Arjuna to fulfill each physical action as perfectly as they can, fighting against their brothers to whatever end the universe decrees.
I find peace in hard, honed, desperate movement. Nowadays, it’s what makes the most sense to me.