Writing With Goggles

He must have been close to seven feet tall. He was surrounded by ten year old girls who gathered in a semi-circle peering up towards the sky around him. His voice echoed through the gymnasium. He spoke in instructions and only had to call for their attention once; a raised hand, a blow of the whistle, and there was complete silence.

I watched the second little traveller watch him in awe. She loves basketball and he made it look so easy. She devoured every instruction hoping desperately that he might notice her.

“Keep your eyes up”

She did.

“Change from your left to your right”

She did.

“Okay, find a partner, stand in line”

She raced towards a friend, giggled and put the ball at her feet.

“You know, I train every day with a girl in the High School. Every day. She’s the best player in the school, maybe the best player in the Middle East”.

The second little traveller was mesmerized.

“You know why? Because she practices every day, she practices her dribbling every day. She wears goggles so she can’t see, she has to feel where the ball is moving. She trains with two balls, constantly. That’s how it works. You have to practice, it’s the only way.”

I saw the flicker on the little traveller’s face. The flicker of hope, the maybe that’ll be me one day.

The second little traveller came home, did her homework, and then practiced. After dinner she went outside with her Dad and practiced some more. She’d been stung by a dream. The endless optimism of youth.

As a child I swam, played netball and did a variety of sports. I was mediocre at many of them (tennis and softball were not my forte) but I loved to play netball and swim. Like many kids I watched the Olympics and was sure that would be me one day, up on the podium in my bathers. I looked at Tracey Wickham and just knew if I kept training I could be as good as her. It would be breaststroke for me, I’d probably win the gold for breaststroke and then hopefully at least a silver in the women’s medley. Jane who lived just down the street would get the gold for freestyle, she was really good at freestyle. It made sense.

I guess I was about twelve when I realized it was going to be a little harder than I thought. There were more competitions, I was pretty good, but I wasn’t the best. By the time I was fourteen I knew it was all over. I went off to boarding school and met a swimmer who was still in the thick of her dream. She dutifully went off each morning to train, she was definitely the best swimmer at our school, but by year twelve it was over for her as well. She knew she was good, but just not the best.

The crest of a childhood dream builds as we grow, we ride it out as we get older. Some of us jump off happily realizing that we didn’t really want it, it was only a dream. Others are crushed but come back stronger because of it. Reality bites.

As an adult the best becomes irrelevant. You find your niche, your area of expertise, you become one of many experts, a peer in your field. There’s more room for everyone, more choice. I can’t remember the last time I wanted to be the best? I’ve wanted to be really good at what I do, but the best?

I crawled into bed with the second little traveller last night. She told me a story about how her friend had eaten half of her lunch while she wasn’t looking, she was giggling. She looked down at her lunch and half of it was missing, and then looked up to see her pasta bulging out of her friend’s mouth. She said that later at basketball practice her friend asked if she had any of her lunch left because she was still hungry, and how they laughed and laughed and laughed. I laughed along shaking my head, I didn’t think it was quite as hysterically funny as she did, but her giggles were infectious.

“I love basketball” she said, after a sigh.

“There’s a lot of girls trying out for the team this year isn’t there?”

She knew where I was heading.

“I don’t mind if I don’t make the team, I just really like playing”.

“What about you?” she asked “What do you like doing?”

I thought about it for a moment.

“I like writing, some days it feels like I’m getting the hang of it, some days – not so much.”

“You have to just keep practicing every day Mum. That’s how it works.” she said with a grin.

And just like that, she’d pierced me with the sting of her youthful optimism.

“You’re right, that’s how it works. With goggles.”

We laughed and laughed and laughed. We thought we were hysterical.

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