One Basketball Game

As are many of my friends, I’m having a difficult time not thinking constantly about the situation in the Ukraine. So much of what I’m reading and feeling triggers childhood memories of body-chilling buzzers sounding off in elementary school, and all of us children rushing to slip under our desks or out into the school corridors, sitting up against the wall, heads on knees—and waiting silently until the drill was over.

At home and on the news, talk was of nuclear war, nuclear disaster, nuclear fall out. We heard about people building bomb shelters in their backyard and stocking them with enough food and water to feed and hydrate the family for at least a month. But what would happen if the bombs hit when we were en route to or from school? Or playing out in the neighborhood with our friends? Who would help save us? Where would we run?

Reading and hearing about war anywhere on the globe is upsetting, of course. But I understand why this particular war in the Ukraine troubles me so intensely. And why I feel a bit guilty whenever I feel joy or am having a particularly swell time. But on Sunday, during a basketball game between two teams of girls nine-to-ten-years old, I made the decision to put the Ukraine out of mind for a while and enjoy the game.

It was the last game of the season, the championship game, and my granddaughter Amelie’s team was one of the contenders.

To be honest, I hadn’t expected this to be a peak experience. I love basketball, but I’m used to rooting for the Golden State Warriors and wowing three-pointers. Two elementary-school teams promised little in comparison. Sure, I would enjoy watching Amelie and her friends play, but I’d leave at halftime. I had a lot of work to finish that day.

You have to put this experience in context. For two years I haven’t been in the midst of anything you might consider a crowd. In fact, I haven’t spent time with more than six people at once. I haven’t experienced the thrill of standing in the middle of a group all focused on and cheering for the same people.

There I was, one in a long line of parents and grandparents, all eyes fixed on the same 10 girls, who were, in fact, playing one hell of a game. All cheering whenever anyone made a good pass and whooping whenever the ball slipped through the net. And the fathers among us! Oh the fathers! Coaching from the sidelines and disputing the referees’ calls. “Way to go, Amelia!” “Guard your player, Estelle!” “Dribble, Debbie!” “What? That’s ridiculous!” “You’re penalizing the wrong team!”

All my years of cheering for Jonah on the basketball court and soccer field came back to me. Once again, I was in my forties, applauding my boy. But whenever I looked, it was not Jonah’s father beside me, but Jonah. My little boy now a father himself!

When Amelie made her second basket, this one a swisher, I wasn’t able to cheer. I was crying tears of joy. Jonah noticed and threw his arms around me. And there we were, time evaporating, as mother and son embraced and cheered on one marvelous ten-year-old.

Emeryville Wall

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