Soccer ode

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(HOST) Commentator Philip Baruth has begun to believe that it’s actually soccer, rather than science or religion or philosophy, that holds the key to human enlightenment.

(BARUTH) By 9 o’clock Saturday morning, the cold rain was moving over the back lawn in slow white sheets October rain but with something especially disheartening about it. Gwendolyn’s soccer game was scheduled for 11, and I didn’t think she should go.

Why? Mostly because I had to take her, and then stand on the sidelines in the rain. I was hoping a call would come in from the coach, but no dice. My wife thought we should just tough it out, but then she was staying home and cranking up the heat.

So come 10:47 we’re headed for Callahan Park, and Gwendolyn suddenly yells Snacks! Nothing more needs to be said: I’ve avoided bringing snacks every week by promising to bring them the next, and since this is the last game of the regular season, my little ponzi scheme has come to an abrupt end.

But I’m still stewing because of the weather, and so I suddenly do what I’ve promised Annika I will never do: I wheel into the donut shop.

I can’t even remember why Annika made me promise never to bring donut holes to soccer. It had something to do with some sort of obligation to other parents, some soccer version of the Golden Rule.

But this morning I’m in a lawless mood, and I go even further. Annika has also made me swear that if I ever do, for any reason, break the donut promise, I at least won’t order the chocolate glazed. But it’s now 10:53, and the rain’s already soaked through my shoes, and we are getting the chocolate glazed donut holes. Oh, yes we are.

We make the game with two minutes to spare. The girls are first- and second-graders, and they play in the unmistakeable style of well-behaved little girls: they let whoever happens to have the ball keep the ball. Really, they will stand, a big group of them, and watch another little girl slowly dribble up and through their midst, and not one of them will lift a foot to stop her. They’ve been taught to take turns, and they do.

It’s amazingly frustrating to watch.

Dark clouds are herding across the sky, but when I look back down, something odd is happening: Gwendolyn has the ball, and she’s not just looking at it, she’s running behind it. She’s moving it forward with sharp little kicks, and it dawns on me that for the first time she’s dribbling. I drop my umbrella because it cuts into my view, and I start this sort of unbelieving stagger down the sideline to the goal, because that’s where she’s headed. Words are pour- ing out of me now, loud words, screams. I see in a heartbeat how much I’m banking on this soccer team. I need it more than Gwen- dolyn, I realize. I need it to teach my daughter that strong is beautiful. I need it to show her that a group of girls can be entirely focused on something besides a group of boys. That competition doesn’t have to be a sickness, so long as everyone believes deep- ly in the idea of a referee.

And for the first time in my life, I’m not a fiction writer, but a poet.
I say this because a verse floats full-blown into my head, over the shouting of the parents. Okay, maybe it owes a little to William Carlos Williams, but it was me standing out there in the October rain, so I make no apologies in calling it my own:

so much depends

a white soccer

glazed with rain

beside the damp

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