Even so, I have felt privileged to teach and coach in the past week.
For reasons I do not entirely know, the soccer team seemed to fall into a malaise in the middle third of the season. Our practices and games seemed lackluster, filled with laziness and bickering rather than the earlier energy and enthusiasm. We stayed with one of the best teams in the state for almost the entire game, only to allow their slim one-point lead to explode to three in the final four minutes of the game. In two games our lack of intensity let leads slip through our fingers and turn into bad losses. Meanwhile, the tenth graders utterly failed as leaders, instead encouraging an attitude of selfishness, indifference, and disrespect.
But they turned it around in the last week, approaching practice with renewed seriousness and dedication--and playing much harder. In our blitz of a final week, we tied the first game against our cross-town rivals and won the final two.
I have seen or played in few games more exciting than our season closer, which we won 3-2. Our set-piece specialist boomed in the first goal and his first of the season from 30-yards out, bouncing it over the head of a poorly positioned keeper. After the other team tied it up in the second half, Alex again scored to put us ahead. Only this time, he scored from a free kick about five yards in front of half-field. The ball was a missile, exploding into the top-let corner--a finer shot I cannot imagine. Unfortunately, the opposition again tied the game with only six minutes left. Despite a fearsome response by our boys resulting in numerous close calls, the other team still clung to their lead nearly three minutes into stoppage time--well after Sean and I expected the game to be called.
Enter Alex, again, for a corner kick. We pushed almost everyone into the box, leaving two lone defenders and our keeper to halt any counterattack. Alex's corner was a beauty, but it popped out of the box in left field after bouncing around for a few seconds... during which time, Amal, one of our two reserve defenders, had moved forward. And so, when the ball popped out, it landed right at his feet. He took two quick dribbles to the right, and then took his first--and only--shot of the season. Upper right at an unbelievable velocity. 3-2. Pandemonium. 30 seconds later--game over.
The next day, I began discussions with the 8th graders about the purpose of studying history. And although almost all remain deeply skeptical of my thoughts about history's great worth, most chose to engage me in serious discussion--which I would much rather have than any sort of bland agreement. I am hoping we can build on this in the future, cultivating respectful discussion and reflective thought.
Too much that we do is done at the expense of something else, or somebody else. There is some intransigent destructiveness in us. My days, though I think I know better, are filled with a thousand irritations, worries, regrets for what has happened and fears for what may, trivial duties, meaningless torments--as destructive of my life as if I wanted to be dead. Take today for what it is, I counsel myself. Let it be enough.
And I dare not, for fear that if I do, yesterday will infect tomorrow. We are in the habit of contention--against the world, against each other, against ourselves.
It is not from ourselves that we will learn to be better than we are.