For some reason, I thought of my days as a soccer player in high school late last night as I was drifting off to sleep. It’s odd to think of it now, but at one time, soccer was a very big part of my life. We used to joke that if you started sleeping soccer, that meant you were practicing long enough. Don’t get me wrong – I was never very good at it since co-ordination and I do not walk hand in hand. It’s really like I try to grab for co-ordination’s hand and miss, and we bump shoulders most of the time instead. Still, I was on the team all four years, though I don’t think we ever had numbers to cut anyone.
The particular instance that came to mind last night was not really much related to the sport of soccer itself. I had just come back from spending six weeks as part of an exchange program to Australia. During my time away, the soccer team had decided to get together for a pre-season retreat up at our coach’s parent’s cabin in Michigan. I was going to take a flight up to some tiny town in Michigan direct from Chicago, rather than going back to Indy first. The couch had decided to exempt me from the first day of the trip ‘this time’ since I was already in a foreign country. I had already been up 24 hours since I couldn’t sleep on planes, had cried during my first viewing of City of Angels, possibly because I was so tired, and my flight to Michigan had been canceled at least three times. Eventually I got to the airport and found the prearrange cab out to the cabin after having been up about 40 hours straight. It was a long day/night for me.
Just as I would assume there are rules for almost all school athletics, Indiana has very specific restrictions as to the nature of meetings or events that could take place for the members of a sports team pre-season. Conditioning and general fitness training overseen by team captains was allowed – any sort of official practice with coaches or specific soccer drills was not. The idea was to allow no team to get an unfair advantage or ‘jump’ on the season by playing together early. Of course, many girls were together in rec teams on their local leagues, but it was an unfair advantage that really couldn’t be avoided. I’m not sure how this particular Michigan retreat fit in – I can’t quite remember if it was the opener to the season, or a pre-season loophole exploited to increase team building without any real sports involved. What I really remember was the sunrise.
The first day I was there so early in the morning, a Saturday, I slept late. I remember little of that first day, probably passing it in a foggy haze of sleepy indifference. But the next morning I agreed to get up early with a few others, go down to a dock not far from the cabin, and wait for the first light of day to hit the surface of the lake. When I did wake in predawn mistiness, a few people were already down there. My footsteps echoed a bit as I made my way to them, and I rustled to a sitting position as quietly as possible. And then we just sat there, quiet except for one or two interruptions from late arrivals, and waited, watching.
I’ve tried to capture those moments hundreds of times on paper – the quality of the silence, the ear’s perception extending ever further outwards and down unnoticed until some faraway splash startles you; the quality of the light, hazy and a little dim, and yet so clear that it allows you to see further than in the brilliance of noon; the quality of the breath of your own body become a quietly thrumming snake on the dock you attempt not to disturb lest it strike you; the quality of shadow, become so icy with the lack of sun but still lightweight enough that it seems a single exhalation could blow them gustily away – but something of the essence is always lost. Perhaps in that one moment was encapsulated the full purpose of the retreat. We said nothing, we shared nothing, we took very little in (the actual rising of the sun ended up being obscured by tall pines and large clouds), but at the same time, to simply sit there together, waiting, had meaning. It made us something together, connected us for a moment as a way we were not connected as a team. Not through communication, or teamwork, or any of the traditional activities that encourage trust, but to something deeper. Not even shared experience really. I would assume, though I never discussed it with others, that the experience was different for each person. Some might have been bored with the silence and stillness; others, disappointed with the lack of true visible sunrise. But the feeling of that morning is still what I kept with me as I finally drifted off to sleep – something beautiful and strange and unassuming seen through slit eyes.