Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Long and Winding Road

January 7, 2012.

If you’re counting in time, it was a year and a half ago. If you’re counting in life, it was forever. That’s the day Rayner texted me from the darkened cold of a road trip bus ride and said, “I’m done. I can’t play here any more.” A few days later he had withdrawn from college (“It’s too expensive for you, Mom, if I’m not playing basketball.”) and moved back home. To work. To wait.

You know those Hollywood movies when people do things on principle and then 45 minutes later everything has rolled neatly into place? This wasn’t like that. It was grueling—a 22 month five day trek through highs that collapsed and lows that found new bottoms. There were coaching calls and workouts, an injury, mixed signals, mind-blowing serendipity that led absolutely nowhere and then one day when it was over; when the fat lady had sung and he was moving on to a different life, a really good coach appeared, and saw him and paid for a flight to Arizona and said, “I’ve been waiting for you. How bout coming to Phoenix?”

And so he did. He put on a red shirt and wore dress pants on the bench and practiced and encouraged and became part of a crew of brothers. He also dug deep in life. Took an ax to the root of a few weeds, made peace, found a mentor for life.  And then as the good part was about to get going, it ended. The coach was gone and so was he. Just. Like. That.

He went to Europe with one of those brothers—a gift as unexpected as if someone had handed him a fistful of bills. Saw old things, made new friends, traveled by the skin of his teeth and the timetable of a Europass. And then flew back to reality.

He came home and made a hasty decision because what else could be done when you needed to get a degree and make sure it was paid for and in as little time as possible? Lightning would never strike twice. There would be no miracle and was that even a miracle anyway because look how it turned out. The days grew longer and darker and when it looked, once again, like this journey was over, someone struck a match.

An old friend said, “C’mon. Come play with me.”

Play. He had forgotten about that part.

The grind of day in and day out, hours and hours alone in a gym will do that to you. Toil and disappointment and maybe you were never any good because why is it taking so long. But what if it was just that you had forgotten how to play?

And so he packed up his car and oriented his yankee compass south from Free State Ground Zero. Through geography and Spanish moss he drove into history, believing he was heading for joy, only to arrive at the heart of his darkness. Deepest sorrows coiling round; despair and doubt nipping at his heels.

If not for those 22 months he might have given in. Packed up his tent and called it a day. Instead, tonight he’ll step onto a wooden floor, all 6 feet 4 inches and 200 pounds of him, proudly wearing the number of the #original44. Forgetting the years when he didn’t play, wouldn’t grow, couldn’t see. 

Into my heart’s night along a narrow way I groped; and lo! the light, an infinite land of day.    --Rumi

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad he's back. He's the first photo on the website for the team, handsome and huge.