Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pain, Friendships, Love and Influence

I normally do not write on Sundays. Whether in deference to some unwritten personal blue law, the need for a break or out of love and appreciation for a God I do not understand nor care to converse with at the moment; is in effect immaterial to the fact.  I generally do not write on Sundays.  Then Thursday happened, then Friday and finally yesterday; and when I ultimately lay my head to pillow at 3:30 this morning it was too late to write.

In this kaleidoscope of events of the past days, it is Friday that will have the most lasting memory for most readers.  Friday was Sandy Hook Elementary.  A school name not unlike Columbine, Virginia Tech or The University of Texas.  20 children and 6 adults perished in that awful event, and 18 hours earlier 22 children and one adult were slashed by a knife wielding man at an elementary school in China.  No matter the moral outrage, no matter the misguided attempts at fixing a ‘broken’ society, what commonalities are present in the two men who half a world away take out their personal insanities upon children. 

I do not have the answer, but I would like to point a finger like the hundreds and thousands of people who have vented into this debate using the shock and disgust of this situation to forward their own personal agendas to improve society.  I do not point fingers at legislators, the NRA, gun manufacturers, the Supreme Court or any other authority or person of authority in this matter.  In an era of blame shifting and finger pointing recriminations, let us look in the mirror.  Let us legislate a minimum of 1 hour conversation with neighbors a day, never the same neighbor, you can only talk to the same person as part of this mandate once per month. 

The details beyond this would be reasonable, enforcement would not be funded nor demanded, except that once a year on the date of anniversary, at 9a, noon, 3p and 6p and 9p; if you owned a transmission source (radio, TV – of any kind, satellite) you would have read off the location and names of the victims of any mass killing in the country.  Perhaps then we would not lose sight that a sound bite world and isolation of individuals behind electronic camouflage is not a society but a haven for the insane among us.

As devastating as Friday was to us all, and for the lifelong hauntings of those parents and children in the vicinity of Sandy Hook elementary; for the rest of us life will continue forward with nary a look back on this event in the coming weeks and months.  While this tragedy was developing in Connecticut, I was preparing for an indoor soccer (actually futsal) tournament at the college where I work.  A position of some envy for some, if not many, but a position I would not have if it were not for the 4 Little Maids from school.

NB.  For the sake of information, my parents thrust upon me as a child a love for the low theatre of Gilbert and Sullivan who wrote a wonderful piece of music for their comic opera The Mikado entitled Three Little Maids from School.  Here is a link to a great performance from Australia

It was winter 1999 or 2000 when I was approached by Kim Munro nee Murphy, Megan Lyons nee Karchon, Kristiana Dixon and Sarah Barbu .  Now to put this in perspective.  I had coached Kim and Sarah for a couple of years and Kim’s dad was my assistant.  I had also coached against Kristi for 2 years before coaching her for a year and had coached her older brother.  Megan had been a family friend for years going back to the times I had coached her brother in High School, and in the highest honor a coach could receive she had attended the high school where I coached just to have had the experience before she began attending the school that would be better for her long term education.

A that time they were all attending Notre Dame Preparatory High School in Pontiac, Michigan and were deeply concerned that they were not getting the best preseason prep work from their coaches.  I was not coaching at the time, having suffered a major head injury in 1998 and walking away from the sport in the spring of 1999 after Evan was born.  I will never know if they were really concerned about what was coming in the Spring or if they were throwing me a lifeline; but they would not be denied. 

At a time when I did not believe in myself, they believed in me; after the countless lessons on the soccer field about picking yourself up and getting on with the job, they taught me to take my own medicine. While I struggled with the techniques, afraid of the ball hitting my head, and having less than adequate balance with my left leg; I came to realize that the knowledge of the game and the psychology of the player were not dependent on whether I could continue to play but whether I was willing to risk engaging myself with players.

I have never forgotten those sessions in the racquet ball courts, the renewed laughter and life enjoyed with players and friends.  I have remained in touch with 3 of the four girls, who are now grown women living vibrant lives of their own.  I know of 2 marriages and four children to date; and my heart sings for joy with each interaction and announcement.  Each Christmas we exchange cards, and over the long journey with Evan they reached out to share a hug or a note of encouragement to him so many times that I lost count. 

And this year has been different and yet the same.  Thursday evening after I had spent the afternoon at the college, then spent three hours on a floodlit practice field at an Air Force Base then driven an hour home, there was a package on the kitchen table.  There is nothing unusual about getting home at 11 pm and finding packages, letters, cards and bills strewn over the central location for distribution (as Fedex has the Memphis sorting Hub, we enjoy the kitchen table)  But this package was from Kim Munro. 

I have on the shelves in my office a picture of a 15 year old Kim holding a trophy after the last season I coached her, the season I suffered my head injury.   She looks so young, and her smile just lights up the picture.  I as usual do not look like a soccer coach but more like a lumberjack.  And that picture sits there to remind me of the influence and impact that coaching can have on a young life.

Inside the package was an assortment of thoughtful gifts of no appreciable value to anyone but us.  This is the gold bullion of friendship love and respect.  To begin with or end with the dozen plus homemade chocolate chip cookies that is the question? Or Lil’ Duck’s twin brother rescued from a market in the days after Evan’s death,  or the ‘e’ necklace for Morgan, the candle of light and love for us all or the cranberry hand soap. 

This package was not about the stuff but about the real values in the strength of relationships and positive influences upon one another.  If I influenced Kim’s confidence by changing her position from defender to forward; then she and her cohorts most definitely influenced my belief and confidence that I could coach, and that coaching was so much more than kicking a ball about.  The package was a touch of nostalgia, a hug of comfort and patterned after the depth of love that true friendships hold.

Kim will undoubtedly read this blushing like the young school girl she was, amazing wife and daughter she is, and the strongest mom a child could ever have, don’t you forget this Mason Munro (When your able to read this).  But as she will relate to the memories I pointed to, so too will Megan and Kristi.

While I document Kim in the above paragraphs, please do not think that the love we have experienced from anyone else is any less meaningful or sincere but at a time when the nation looks at the broken relationships that lead to the pain and anguish so readily reported on the news; I wanted to detail how the relationships of some are powerfully infused with love and respect. 

Kristi is deep into her graduate level work in Criminal Justice at San Diego State; and she sent us music to comfort our souls as she had received comfort at a time of need in her own life.  And Megan is in the throes of joy and agony of being a wife to a wonderful man, while running a farm while raising 3 children, including a new born in Up State New York. And through it all there is almost weekly a kind word of love, support and remembrance.

Their love is more precious than the Crown Jewels of England; their friendship more valuable than all the tea in China.  Their influence and impact on my life is simple – Without it, I would not be coaching today.  I would have shriveled up and given up on life as I felt life had given up on me.  So in retrospect I am not sure if they are the mischievous Three Little Maids or the Archangels of Note Dame.

Saturday was soccer, soccer, soccer; and as much as I love it, I was very happy to put my head to pillow this morning.

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