It’s a lesson I didn’t realize I’d even learned, that all those games with my friends, the touch football in the street, baseball in the cul de sac on Arrowhead, the basketball games at the park on Creek Crest, the hide-and-seek marathons on Folsom Drive, the Wiffle Ball home run derby’s at Ben’s house, none of them were about winning.
I hope someday my son and his friends will come to the same understanding, that the really important thing about the games you played had nothing to do with winning. I think that’s why so many of us remember playing outside for so long that we didn’t even realize it had gotten dark. And even when you finally did realize it was deep into the evening, you just kept playing because you didn’t want the game to end. You didn’t want those days to end, as though you understood somehow that these moments were precious in your life that soon enough, you’d have a job to go to, a career to think of and a family.
And so you played on, even when you could barely see the pitcher in home run derby and the first clue he had released the pitch was the sound of it whizzing at you from out of the dark.
I was talking about those days with some old friends, recently, and we were joking about who won those contests, with everyone claiming they always won. But I’ll be honest with you, I can’t tell you if I won or lost any of those games. What I do remember is feeling the joy at crushing a taped up Wiffle Ball with a bat. I remember watching in admiration as my friends tossed some nasty curve balls or tried to slip fastballs by me. A ball struck by a friend that seems like it was going to leave the atmosphere. I can remember chasing down a pop up and catching it, or watching someone else desperately doing the same thing to me. I remember dropping some easy outs and laughing about it.
I remember the sound of feet pounding on asphalt as you chased after someone playing football in the street. I remember the anticipation of being discovered in the perfect hiding place. I remember arguments over fouls or strikes didn’t last too long because it was like we all realized it was a waste, because we needed to fit in more time to play the game, not argue.
What made these moments truly precious was that they were made with the best kinds of friends you’ll ever have in your life. Not one of us were gripped by a political ideology. None of us had drug or alcohol problems. We weren’t worried about paying mortgages or making partner or getting promotions or whether a spouse was faithful or whether we were failing at something. We were just kids and friends.
What’s said about it was you knew it wasn’t going to last, just like the games that finally had to end when our parents called us back to our homes and to our other lives. We’d sometimes shout our goodbyes and make plans for the next day but in the end, we all just drifted away from one another, much as we would do in adulthood.
But I’ll hang on to the memories of the games and I know that it didn’t matter who actually won them, because we actually all won just by being together.