The Joys of Life

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared at

In an effort to squeegee politics out of my life for a long weekend, I recently attended several sporting events that highlighted my granddaughters’ skills in soccer and swimming.

Let’s start with the soccer teams. Let’s call one the Sesame Street Hushpuppies and the other team the Fighting Pacifists. But don’t let these names mislead you; they certainly know how to play soccer. It’s just the game itself that remains a puzzle to me.

For instance, at unpredictable times for incomprehensible reasons, a referee would blow a whistle, whereupon all the players would reformat and start over again. I asked someone what the problem was, and he lifted his umbrella and said that one team was “off-sides.” After he explained what that meant, I was incredulous, because being “off-sides” struck me as the whole point of the game. That is, if you wanted to score goals, which didn’t take place during the first half. Not that they didn’t try, with efforts that involved kicking, running, bouncing the ball off your head, tumbling, and in this rainy weather, lots of slipping and sliding. In fact, the smoothest maneuver I’d ever seen—which I think was intentional—involved one of the players hydroplaning feet first across the slick grass and undercutting a pair of opposing players at the ankles, propelling them both out of bounds and out of the way. No whistle sounded. I asked another grandparent if this was legal; he just shrugged.

Halftime arrived, and both teams reported to their respective sidelines. One of the coaches gave his team a lecture, waving his arms energetically, apparently reviewing his team’s strategy. Strategy? It seemed to me there were three parts to it. One: try to kick the ball into the opposing team’s net. Two: try to prevent the other team from doing the same to you. And, three: above all—above all!—do notaccidentally kick the ball into your own net.

Which is exactly what happened in the second half, which put a point on the board for the opposing team. I didn’t get it. To me, a rule like this, say, in baseball, would amount to awarding a run to the team on the field if a batter on the other team hit a home run, but failed to step on one of the bases as he trotted around the infield on his trek to home plate. Rules aside, I found some terms confusing, too; like “passing” the ball to another player, which, often as not, ended up being intercepted by an opposing player, who then passed to a fellow player, only to have it (re)intercepted, keeping the process going on indefinitely, as they all raced back and forth across the field.

Not that there weren’t any exciting moments. For instance, at one point, a clutch of players converged on the ball simultaneously, crashing into each other and littering the field with their colorful team bodies. The grandparent part of me was concerned; the selfish part of me, disappointed, because this little contretemps stopped the clock of an agonizingly long game. Fortunately, no one was hurt, they all got up, and play resumed.

Just in time, too, as shortly afterward, one of the teams scored a goal, which in my estimation, seemed to occur by accident. In fact, most scoring in soccer seems to occur by accident, and even though I was looking at the scoring move at the time, I’m not sure I could relate what happened. It seems someone kicked the ball, which ricocheted off someone else’s shoulder, then bounced off the goalie’s noggin, and rolled into the net. The crowd cheered—all two dozen or so rain-soaked relatives. The goalie, who holds the only sane position in the game allowing its player to use both hands on the ball, looked embarrassed. For good reason, it seemed to me. After all, scoring in this sport is such a rarity, how can you not be mortified if you feel responsible when it takes place?

As the game proceeded, my hands, feet, and brain went numb, and a quote from Shakespeare wandered into my thoughts—you know, the line by Macbeth about “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Which, absent the sound and fury part, is a pretty apt description of soccer

Now, to the other sport, swimming, which on that day differed from rainy day soccer only in the fact that the indoors humidity made it seem like it was raining inside the pool auditorium. In fact, I think it was wetter there than at the soccer field; at all events, Saturday apparently was not a day to be dry at my granddaughters’ sports events. Swimming tournaments differ from soccer in that they last all day, and the part involving your pride and joy is measured in the hundredths of seconds. The day’s activities are divided into events, heats, and strokes; I know that because at this event the heat nearly gave me a stroke. No matter; I could always go outside and cool off in the summer rain, with visions of soaring soccer balls bouncing through my brain.

Unlike the soccer stadium earlier in the day, the swim meet was packed to the hilt, jammed with swimmers’ relatives on excruciatingly uncomfortable rows of seats. My granddaughter in this event holds the state record for her specialty, and on this occasion, she pulled through again, even shaving a second or so off her time, which in the swimming world is a huge accomplishment. Discretion prevents naming names, but her specialty has always struck me as the absolutely most unnatural swimming stroke ever imagined, one that had to be concocted by some water besotted sadist whose identity shimmers behind a chlorine-laced mist rising from an ancient pool of water lurking in the distant past. Whatever the case, she is particularly good at it, and our hearts swelled with pride (though the swelling could have come from the heat, too) when we watched her climb to the top position of the award platform. Moments to cherish.

Which in no way discounts my other granddaughter’s accomplishments, as she can kick a soccer ball into orbit on a clear day, and she managed to save the Hushpuppies from several scoring attempts in her team’s winning performance on the field. Plus, her father holds a slew of state records for best coaching, so I always have to be careful what I say when the topic comes up, or when I’m at a soccer match. Fortunately, neither pays a whit of attention to politics, which I count as a sign of mental health.

All in all, this weekend gave us a most delightful and wonderful experience, thankfully devoid of politics, and bursting with the joys of life, why it is worth living—family, children, grandchildren, love, competition, laughter, exhilaration, goofiness all around, plenty to share, and memories that will never fade. Certainly, it is all this that keeps us sane, which is an excellent reason to forget about our national troubles and focus on what really matters in our lives.

About Marvin J. Folkertsma

Dr. Marvin Folkertsma is a retired professor of political science and fellow for American studies with the Institute for Faith and Freedom at Grove City College. The author of several books, his latest release is a high-energy novel titled "The Thirteenth Commandment."

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