The birthday parties and the Christmas dinners and the morning bacon and the evening highballs and the many characters who played their parts in that living room scene, then disappeared.
I still remember the morning of our wedding 31 years ago, when Mary’s brothers and I played clear basketball in the backyard. The hoop, in fact, is still in place, beckoning.
And that’s why I’m here, bundled up in two sweatshirts, doing red-white-blue shooting jumps in the freezing cold. The only warmth comes from the embarrassment of my first jump shots – so far that the lifeless, errant ball keeps rolling under a parked car.
miss. miss. To hit.
Here we are.
Basketball, when played alone, is a meditation. Other people find their inner balance through counseling, running, yoga, or tending to tomatoes and cucumbers in the garden. I find it with basketball. Just me, a ball, a hoop.
And, now, Covid.
Fully vaccinated and boosted, I’m one of the lucky ones to experience minor symptoms, which in my case include waves of sheepishness. In the midst of so much Covid-related suffering, I am loath to suggest that my health has been significantly threatened; it would be like making an appearance in the bad sequel to a classic horror movie.
Always: cough, congestion, absence of family.
I have used basketball therapy since childhood. As a teenager, shooting hoops while trying to work up the courage to invite a girl to prom. (I just couldn’t let that red blazer-plaid pants combo go to waste.) As an adult, shooting hoops while trying to pick-and-roll cancer. (I blamed all the misses on chemotherapy-induced neuropathy.)
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What develops is an athletic form of thinking that veers from the mundane to the spiritual and back again. Sometimes the filming is thoughtless; the muscle memory of tens of thousands of jumps takes over. And sometimes it is conscious, because the contemplative, even the prayer, synthesizes with the competitive: If I hit 10 in a row, she’ll say yes. If I hit 10 in a row, I’ll survive.