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reflector

Does soccer show me how I see the world?

Forgive me the introspection, but this is election season. It’s an introspective time.

At least it should be.

I sometimes think we carry certain perceptions of ourselves to the ballot box. We believe we’ve come to terms with those emotive issues that have taken us there. If not, we at least hold that one candidate, leader or party tends to resonate more with our principles and reactions of conscience than the others.

Then there are those of us who don’t participate at all. But there are lessons, too, in both disenfranchisement and laziness. Or at least motivators for further introspection.

When it comes to the process of determining government it is absolutely vital that we know ourselves—that we know our sensitivities, and treat them as objectively as possible; that we know our standards, and are confident enough in them to project them into the world by voting.

But, I think, it is equally important to understand how we know ourselves—how our trigger points are aggravated here and not there; how our scruples align there and not here. And the way we spend, and have spent, our time provides an indicator. Provides a reflector, if you will.

I’ll use myself as an example, and soccer as my reflector.

One of the things that initially drew me to the sport was the action beyond the field of play—the choreography among the fans, the singing, the drums. Those elements remain for me an invigorating part of the spectacle, which reflects within myself a fondness for music, visual art and, more broadly speaking, the collective.

Soccer’s worldly, global characteristics also reverberate with me. I treasure the national and city rivalries, and the age-old contexts to them, and I find a similar chord is struck when I consider topics of international relevance—those things that would fall into a foreign affairs file.

In combination, my resonance with both the spectacle and universality of soccer suggests I also value what political scientist Benedict Anderson would call “imagined community.” Given the noises, pictures and worldliness of the sport it’s never as if I’m watching it alone, whether I’m at Old Trafford or on my living-room sofa.

For me, the world is not a lonely place; I have never been comfortable with isolationist narratives. In that, soccer reflects more a yearning for togetherness than belief in the singular.

It also reflects the trust I place in my instincts. Or lack thereof. Thank goodness for instant replay.

I am rarely one to jump out of my seat and wildly protest a foul, booking, penalty or offside decision. I simply don’t trust my immediate reactions and prefer to have at least a bit of supplementary information before making a judgement.

Incidentally, I also despise the offside rule. In its current interpretation (and there have been several) it exceeds the logic of what offside really is and serves, by way of botched translation, to benefit one aspect of the game at the expense of another.

These peculiarities would seem to be at odds with each other, at once withdrawing trust in myself and placing it elsewhere while discarding confidence in the rules for the sake of coherence.

But they also reflect an aversion to reactivity and a preference for pragmatism.

Then there’s diving.

I’m far less disgusted by the act of it—by a player feigning contact and going to ground—than are other observers. I’ve simply seen too many dribblers hacked to pieces with the ball at their feet and recognize diving, as they do, as a means to gain an advantage on the aggressors.

Of course, there are players who use that advantage to embarrass themselves and the sport, but I think you’d see a reduction in diving, or at least worthy penalization for it, if the authorities clamped down on fouling and grappling in close quarters.

This reflects an inclination for dealing with the root causes of problems—however tricky the process might be—and a distaste for simply meting out punishment.

Admittedly, there’s a lot about soccer I don’t know, and as I press what I think are its boundaries I find it to be bigger and more complicated, and in some cases more perplexing, than I had previously imagined.

Much like myself, if I’m perfectly honest. It seems the more introspective I become the more mystery I turn up.

Which is why reflectors, such as soccer, are of immense help. They test those perceptions of myself I carry with me.

They emulate, in flashes, how it is I see the world.

 

This article was published in the 08 August 2015 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press.

I once had a dog that knew he would die. He was an old dog when he knew, and while I was just a boy at the time I can still recall his face. I can still recall him not looking me in the eye and the way his body would tighten when I stroked the top of his head. He was not seeking affection and he did not expect a stroke or a pat or a tickle of the ears like when he dropped ball or piece of rope at my feet. He had once been a young dog but he was young no longer and was awaiting death, and all he wanted from me was to know he was dying, to really and solemnly know, to know it like I knew he had once been born and to leave him be and to die.

I have heard it said that a dog will go off on its own to await death. I am sure it is not just dogs that do it, that find a soft place among the trees near the river, but I can only speak for my own dog whom I found in some brush along the bank, beneath the branch of a tree that stirred the water in the moonlight, its body bent over that of a dog who did not startle as I approached.

He knew I would come, my dog, that I would look for him and find him and know, and really and solemnly know, that he was a dying dog and not mine anymore. He had once been mine and I had called him mine, but in dying he was only his own and his life and everything he had done was his own and only his own, and I was a part of it. I could not keep him anymore and all I could keep was the sight of him bounding over the hill and the sound of him paddling through the creek. As I grew up the sights became film grain and the sounds a tune, and now when I think of him I do so as if his life was a movie.

He is not the only thing I keep that way. There are places I have been that appear like photographs, unmoving and committed to time and proof that I was there because I was the lens and the focal length and shutter speed and I captured the place where I was in an image, an image I can recall but that possesses no sentiment unless I add it, and why would I add it when my sentiments change over time while the picture remains in its own time and its own sentiments and apart from what I added to it yesterday, today, and tomorrow?

I know this and yet I add the tune, and it is the tune that adds sentiment. Perhaps it is a song from the radio or a television program but when I hear it and recall the photograph the honest, emotionless image becomes dishonest and sentimental and attached to my own dishonest emotions. It is memory made episodic to accommodate my fears, ambitions, and attention span, and when I am done with it I have only to file away the photograph and pause the tune. They are mine to keep, what little they are.

My dog is not mine anymore. He stopped being mine when he went off to die. And unless I reclaim his bones from the spot where they lie and call on the worms and bacteria to give up the rest of him he will never be mine again, if he ever really was, because he started to die when he was born, even if he only knew it for sure when he lay down in the brush near the river. All that is left of him is what I keep, which isn’t much, and not even mine, not truly, but only exclusive to me. I can play the movie and replay it and play it again when it’s over but it always ends and then the memory is gone.

I sometimes think I am chasing something, maybe my dog but maybe more than just him and I can never quite catch either him or the rest of what I’m chasing. I am running in the dark, awkward and stumbling and sometimes I think I have gained some ground but then fall to the soft, wet earth that reminds me I haven’t caught anything and should get up, brush off the dirt and resume the chase. What is it Carol Kennicott says in Main Street? ‘I think perhaps we want a more conscious life.’ Without a doubt we do, but that’s obvious. I think we want a more conscious memory, although I’m not sure we want all that it entails.

Coverby Jerrad Peters

You can follow my World Cup work here (Sportsnet), here (beIN Sport), here (B/R UK) and here (Winnipeg Free Press).

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