Well, that was a first. Watching the faculty-8th grade basketball game from the sidelines. Last time I played, I spent my first day of summer at Kaiser and hobbled around for three weeks. So in a rare moment of mature wisdom, I weighed the pleasure of playing against the pain of injury and came to grips with the gospel truth— I’m old. At least old enough that I shouldn’t be running up and down the court with 14-year olds.
I considered trying to play basketball light, just relax and play gently, but every muscle in my body has been programmed since I myself was in 8th grade to play with every fiber of its being. You can’t sidestep that. It’s play hard or don’t play at all. So I chose number two and the good news is I’m walking around in one whole piece.
I could be thinking, “It’s just a game of basketball. No need to turn it into a big symbolic shift in the mythic arc of my life. “ But hey, it’s as hard for me to resist that as it is to play lightly. So of course I feel it as the entry into the next phase of life, more on the sidelines than in the heat of the game. And I am not going gently into that good night.
It’s been happening for a while, starting with the occasional trip to a bar and noticing that the young women on the prowl pass me by as if I’m the invisible man. Not that I’m on the prowl, mind you, but still I am a man and that flirtatious energy is part of the deal. According to the movies, I could revive it with better clothes and flashing a wallet full of money, but not quite my style. But the point is that sense of being edged out to make room for the next generation. As natural as sunrise and sunset, but damn, hard to accept!
So far I’m still pretty much in the thick of the music ed game, to my knowledge no one yet meeting a proposal to invite me to give a workshop with, “Are you kidding? That old tired man?” But it will happen. Just the other day a colleague wanting to volunteer at a school in Bhutan was turned down because he was too old. He’s five years older than me.
Anyway, I’m not complaining. Part of me has always been on the sidelines—the writer who puts a wall of words between life and reflection, the Zen meditator participating by sitting still, the piano player alone in the living room. And another part right in the thick of the crowd, muscling my way toward the hoop, jumping into the fray of argument, stepping toward the conflict, just throwing myself helter-skelter into the whole catastrophe—the disappointments and betrayals and moonlit magical nights, catching the wave that may set me flying free or slam me down into the sand. For some reason, I signed up for it all by taking on this body and plan to keep playing until the last moment.
Meanwhile, I’m going to suggest that next year we have the Faculty-8th grade ping-pong game—and hope I don’t hurt my wrist.