Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Go USA Soccer

We've got a team once again that's doing us proud, a rerun of the Miracle on Ice in the '86 Olympics with the underdog US hockey team.

This summer there's so much going wrong out there you could call it the nadir of our oil-soaked 20th century way of life, but the US national soccer team is a little corner of optimism and hope, with its nail-biting, gut wrenching, never-say-die run to the quarterfinal round. The team has astounded pundits all over the world, and made a once marginal sport central to millions of lives, at least for a few magic hours. I was watching a live stream, listening to the Argentinian announcers belittle the Yanks at half time with typical Southern Cone arrogance, saying they had no finishers, no style, openly rooting for the Algerians. By the end of the game they had changed their tune and were parroting the line about all the youth soccer participants in the US and acknowledging the team has some panache in the person of Landon Donovan, who did what every soccer coach in America tells their players, follow your pass, support, and finish hard, to put the US up in the final seconds of the game.

It's obvious that this is a game that is more than just a game. At play are our notions of national character and moral fiber. Like all sports, it allows us a morality play of good and evil, simple truths yes, but we live by them whether we like to admit it or not. It is stupid to make more of it than this, and I'm already done with the bleating from media commentators about American values displayed in the three games so far, and can't help thinking what would they be writing if the ball had hit the post instead. Would our character be any worse for a missed shot?

Still, it's good to see hard work and grit pay off , especially after hearing for so many years that American soccer has no beauty, no style, and how we need to adopt more of the beautiful passing game of the Spaniards or Brazilians. Here's a shout out for hustle and team-work American style.

Even better that the likes of Glenn Beck said recently how he hates soccer because it's not American. Once again the far right is waking up on the wrong side of the bed. How is Landon Donovan, the soft-spoken, polite, humble hero of this team, not American?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Mary's Run

This morning was the last of Mary's Run, the 5k race held every year in our town to commemorate the early death of a young girl from cancer. This was the eighth edition of the race, and the last, as the scholarship fund set up with the proceeds, to benefit graduating seniors, has enough money to run into the foreseeable future.

It was pouring with rain as we gathered in the community school gym, three hundred or so of us, and then exited for the final instructions out on the road before the gun sounded and off we sped. It was a slow pace this year, no serious rabbits in the bunch. Still, the winning time was a respectable 17 minutes. I always like beating a few of the high school kids and then joking with the people manning the final chute about the location of the ambulance. "Right around the corner," they always say. "Keep on going."

My daughter asked me before the race what you get if you win. "A gold medal?" she asked. Then the older one said, "Yeah, but it's not real gold." Then why do it, they wondered, much more pragmatic in their wise young years than I, ostensibly the adult in the bunch.

I do it for the fun, supposedly, and it supports a good cause. And it makes me feel young. That's the important point, I think. The road race has become a continuation of communal rituals, like Morris dancing or religious parades, that used to make people feel part of something larger than themselves, something alive. We justify it as some sort of self-realization, bettering our performances measured in minutes and seconds, but it's got to be more than that individual goal. There's got to be something social going on that makes us come out in a rain and run around the town roads in a pack of heaving, sweating bodies.

It's especially fitting that these events commemorate someone young, whose death is not allowed to mark some absurd injustice but instead becomes a rallying point for health and wealth, the real kind that makes a place liveable and not just a random collection of shops and houses. I hope someone finds another cause to take Mary's place and we can have a race again.

(Photo by Kathryn Hayes, The Villager)