Monday, February 6

things i learn getting hurt

After not playing hockey all of last season, barely playing at all for the three before that, I pulled out my goalie gear last fall and started playing a few times a week. Three to be exact. I was out of shape, my legs felt like jelly after about 15 minutes that first ice time, but I remembered how much I love playing the first time the puck ended up in my glove.

Shocker., I know. That’s how it is when you love something.

I played this morning and, about 65 minutes into our 90-minute slot, a guy tried to jump over me in the crease as I was sprawling, and caught me in the back with the toe of his skate as he vaulted over me. Hard. Not with the blade, thankfully, but still. Goalie gear is amazingly protective on the front, but there isn’t much going on in the back. It felt a bit like I imagine getting hit with a bat might feel like. I think it’s just a really deep tissue and bone bruise. Probably. I’ll know better tomorrow.

That’s not the point, but it got me thinking. Even though the hockey I play is non-contact, there’s still plenty of contact. The vast majority of it just isn’t intentional, like getting kicked in the back with the hard toe of a skate, but it’s a fast game played on a fast surface, and shit happens. And we all acknowledge that as a completely acceptable risk.

For me, hockey, and the odd sprain or bruise or contusion I pick up playing it, are worth it because the game is worth it. Playing is a privilege, so if it hurts once and a while, so be it.

People get hurt all the time. Also, I’m not talking about hockey anymore. Sometimes we react by shutting down, sometimes we just embrace it, most often we learn some measure of tentativeness to try to mitigate the risk in the future.

Maybe, probably, absolutely, there’s a place for the protective measures. They give us a chance to heal, to get our breath back. And then they have to – have to – come down. Or we stagnate, atrophy, and it can get easy to stay hiding behind the armor we put up and never take the risks that can hurt us. You know, those ones that also result in the greatest moments of pure epiphany we’ll ever experience.

In climbing, to get past a certain point of proficiency, you have to go out and learn how to fall. Literally. You go find a nice climb, preferably fully vertical or overhanging, and you get your belayer comfortable, and climb to a certain point. And then you let go. You learn to trust the rope. More, you learn to trust yourself. You learn how to push off a bit when the fall is inevitable and land like a cat when the rope catches you and swings you back towards the wall. You develop the skill of falling so that, when it happens and it’s not planned, you have a better chance of not getting hurt.

But you don’t stop climbing. You mitigate the risk, evaluate it, understand it and how you feel about it, and then you intentionally push the boundaries and risk getting hurt again. Or you might as well stop climbing.

I don’t know whether I bruised or separated or cracked a rib today. Not yet. But I know that I finished the last 25 minutes. And I know that I’ll be back on Friday. I love it too much to not risk again. Just like climbing.

I don’t know why that concept is easier for me to understand when it comes to sport than it was when I broke my heart, but it is.

Eventually my broken heart healed, but I left the cast on too long and kind of forgot how to use it for a while. And then, last fall, I took a risk and removed the barriers. Actually, I’m probably still pulling the remnants of the wall down, and might be for a while, but demolition is absolutely ongoing and completion is inevitable. Love is worth the risks, even if it hurts at some point. Even if something breaks.

See? Hockey isn’t useless.

P.S. Deux: Also, this song is awesome: (the official video is also cool, but embedding is disabled...)

Have a smokin’ hot day, okay?