Saturday, April 7, 2012

Skating Lessons

This is not a story about sports.  Not really anyway.  This is a story of using the tools that get handed to you to get the job done.  Sometimes you think you're looking for wrench, when in fact a hammer works better.  To trot out another cliche, sometimes you pursue one path thinking it will take you to your destination, and before long you realize that you got there going another direction altogether.  As long as you get there.

For me, I came to Pennsylvania to try and find some peace of mind.  I thought being closer to the things and people that anchor me to my past would help put some salve on the shock of losing any real tie to a family.  And, to absolutely no one's surprise, I came here to be close to my Steelers.  And I won't discount that those reasons have not disappointed me.  But, when I have to think about the reasons I was able to make the statement I did in my previous post:  that I am about ready to put the grieving period behind me, I found that the primary tool used to piece me back together was a surprising one.

I've written about it before.  I've followed the Penguins for a while, but I have to confess, I was at one point a casual fan at best.  But, and I'll try and make it quick because hockey truly is not the point of all of this, when I was in town for a Steeler game a couple of years ago, I saw the Pens play the Devils.  It was one of those nights that happen for any team during a long season:  the Penguins stunk up the place.  They lost 5-0 and allowed Devils legendary goalie Marty Brodeur to his 105th career shut-out, which is an NHL record.  The Pittsburgh crowd gave him a standing ovation.  Sometime during that night I began the jump off the bandwagon to join the band.  I was amazed at the skill the players have to fly up and down the ice on thin blades, controlling not only their own bodies, but a bouncing round disc made of rubber while weaving a strategy of offense and defense at lightning speed.  Watching Brodeur's net-minding was like watching an artist at work.  It's hard to explain, but it's an amazing sport - fast paced, tough, but mixed with a grace and flow like nothing else I can think of.  It marries what I love about figure skating with what I worship about football.  Yet, it's hard to follow in Texas.

Here:  well, that's another story.  All 82 games are televised.  Plus games from other markets.  If you have to miss a game, there's a live streaming radio feed from the Penguins official website - all teams have it - plus I can order game highlights On Demand.  It's a veritable orgy of hockey if you want it.  And, I find that I do.  But, I didn't really think much about it until recently when I realized how exhilarated I felt watching each game.  It's so fast and furious that there's no time to think about anything but the course of the puck up and down the ice and the players who are driving it there or defending against it.  It's like an undulating wave, watch it long enough and it sends you into a trance-like state. The best thing about it is that it may break your heart one night, but it has the potential to lift you to a new high the next.  The season, like the game itself, is in constant motion.  Unlike football where one game can erode an entire season or a heartbreak last months (like Hines retiring), you have the opportunity to pick yourself off, dust off the ice shavings and begin again only a few days later.

I caught Hockey Fever first, but it has spread.  First to Marissa, then even to Greg, who bought himself a Malkin t-shirt when we went to a home game a few weeks ago.  But, I don't think I realized what it had done for us until I snuck a morning off from work to go with Marissa to the unveiling of a statue to honor one of the co-owners of the team, former Penguin player Mario Lemieux.  It was a glorious day and we both enjoyed ourselves so completely, just basking in the ability to be there and experience it, that I got to considering it later:  how almost odd it was that such a simple thing made us so very happy.  And I think it was then that I recognized that the feeling of joy had returned to my life.  I felt real honest joy standing down there on a breezy early spring morning with a bunch of total strangers.  Then I noticed how often I felt a sense of contentment doing anything that involves the game.  And that's when I knew:  I had survived the darkest of the dark days of grief.

For me, without even realizing it, this was what the doctor ordered.  For someone else, it will be something else.  I fell into this completely by happy accident.  But, however it is you find your own version of Hockey Fever, find it and then use it.  Use it to pull you through the long dark.

Funny, they call Mario Lemieux the Savior of Pittsburgh Hockey.  And he is.  But, he may well have saved me too without even trying.  That's how good he is.

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