I saw something yesterday. It was one of those things that didn’t just make me smile. It made my heart swell big enough that I could feel it in my throat.
Yesterday I went to watch my oldest son’s basketball game – a plan requiring that we be at the gym thirty minutes early. Taking a seat in the stands, I buried myself in my Kindle as I waited for the game in progress to finish. Normally this strategy of “ignoring the world around me while I wait” works. It is harder though to abide in a noisy gym.
Double checking there was not a French fire drill in progress, I looked up to register the unusual commotion. No one was moving toward the exit but everyone’s eyes were glued on the court. A peek at the scoreboard confirmed it was a close game. The fan appreciation told me there was something more worth watching.
At first glance, it looked like an ordinary game of big bodied sixteen year old boys. One of the teams I recognized as being in my son’s club. The other team was new to me. Though a player on the other team had just gotten fouled on a very nice move to the hoop, I can say with 100% confidence we weren’t watching the next Lebron James.
It was the following beat when I understood why the audience was captivated. Rather than going to the foul line to take his free throws, the big guy positioned one of his teammates on the line. A highly unusual move to have an understudy take your shots, it did not take any powers of observation to notice that his teammate had down syndrome. It was also evident how happy he was to be there. Unskilled but with full-to-bursting effort, he threw up two prayers - both of which missed.
While the team hustled back on defense, I noticed a second player - not with down syndrome, but some form of intellectual disability. He was easy to spot as he was taking the mandate to “stay with his man” with an unyielding if not always effective determination. Rounding out the roster with the big guy and dynamic duo were two more able-bodied and skilled players who helped keep the tempo up and score close. Against a competitive club team.
This was not a charity game.
The dynamo duo kept on with the defensive pressure, passed the ball in and continued to stand-in (90% unsuccessfully) for free throws. Meanwhile the other three were finding the basket and crashing the boards. As the game play entered the last period, the dynamic duo subbed out for a new pair of players. Any assumption that the big guns were coming back was quickly dismissed when one of the guys hugged the scorekeeper to let him know he was coming in and both occasionally needed to be gently but bodily redirected when out of position. In the flow of the game, the three starters involved their rotating cast in small but meaningful ways. In return they received a steady stream of high fives and endless encouragement.
The game stayed close. The club team did not dial down their game. It was a beautiful thing to watch. This team of seemingly misfit, certainly unevenly yoked players playing hard and playing together. Able-bodied young men supported by whole-hearted young men playing a game they clearly all loved. They won by two points. Of course they did. Against a conventional team that wasn’t pandering. The coach of the club team laid into his team as soon as the buzzer sounded. As he should.
This was not a charity game.
This, I think, was a picture of what living with our differences can look like. When a group of seemingly misfit, certainly unevenly minded/skilled/believing people come together - not in a special summit to celebrate our differences - but when they come together in the real flow of life to accomplish something. There’s nothing conventional about that. Maybe even a winning formula?
It probably won’t surprise you to hear that the dynamic quad did not wait for the post-game handshake. They bounded over to the opposing bench to congratulate the team on a game well played.
This morning I read this: “Let everything be human and flawed, and be completely taken and thankful when it is good.”
When our hearts are in our throat… That, I think, is what it feels like to be completely taken when we see something good. And many of those good things never make it on our camera roll.