Nick is home from school and his twin brother is not. He'd been sick in class or something and he decided he just wanted to be home - second grade is, and shall forever remain, hard.
After some crackers and an apple juice he feels better.
"Let's have a catch, Dad," he says. It is a dry Fall afternoon begging to be played in.
I'm game. "Alright, what should we throw?"
Without a moments thought, as though it was a truth just sitting on his tongue, he says, "It doesn't really matter, it's just about being together."
And, a truth it is.
Boys - and by boys I mean grown men, because we are forever boys as well - know what throwing something back and forth is about.
Having a catch is about friendship, the connection to that other kid on the other side of the room or gym or field or pool is made in the exchange of one simple item, no matter what its shape or size or appropriateness. I like to imagine the first game of toss happened on the way home from an unsuccessful hunt. Two dejected boys, hungry for their first catch, and just plain hungry, are walking abreast. One kicks a rock or a pine-cone or a small stick or piece of fruit, the other boy kicks it back and, before long, one boy picks it up and, looking at the other boy, tosses it across the path. To their mutual astonishment and delight, the second boy catches it and sends it back.
Having a catch is a conversation, a primitive and deep way of communicating with one another. It's a look that says 'you ready?' and one back that says 'yes.' And then, 'I'm gonna throw this' and then, 'well, I'm gonna catch it.'
Having a catch is a relationship. A trust, a covenant even, is made. You throw that to me and I will give it back. I will not keep it, I will not break it or ruin it, I'll hold it, welcome it, and then send it back.
Having a catch is a collaboration. A give and take is established, apologies made - "my bad" or "sorry the wind took it" - and affirmations offered - "good catch" or "perfect throw, dude." It could be a short affair, perhaps only minutes, or it may last a lifetime, but it always right and good and necessary.
Having a catch is a metaphor. It is a prayer. It is a dance. It is hope and peace and fellowship and a promise that is and will always be.
The boy with the long face is clearly better at this than the boy whose face seems wider, perhaps because of the round, silver wire-rimmed glasses. They are dressed alike, which is not unusual for college freshman, but there is little to describe. Both are shirtless, both in cut-off Levi's, both are wearing bandanas tied over their longish hair, red for the boy in glasses whose blonde hair comes out from the back, and blue with a black fringe for the other. He, the boy in the blue bandana, is barefoot and the other wears a pair of black, high-topped sneakers, "Chucks" if memory serves, with no socks.
They are both tanned and somewhat muscular. They both imagine they are impressive and appear comfortable with themselves and each other. Perhaps twenty or thirty feet apart they are throwing a blue disk through the air at one another. The blonde is new at this and just finding his groove, missing sometimes, throwing too high or too hard. His friend, clearly skilled and practiced at this, tells him not to worry, that he'll get it, no problem, it's cool...
They are new friends and having a catch furthers a bond that will last decades.
A toss lands midfield and they both walk towards it. They both bend over together, picking it up simultaneously, their heads nearly touch or perhaps do. They are smiling and begin to talk there of subjects long forgotten. There in the middle of a college green, four dormitories facing them, alone on a field of dreams in the zenith of their youth in the last year of the nineteen-seventies.
Into this simple, somehow sacred scene, a man walks towards them from seemingly out of nowhere. He is dressed in baggy, pocketed shorts, a gray t-shirt, sandals, and a green Reds hat. The young men ignore him, not out of rudeness, but because it seems so unlikely that this older man would have anything to do with them, their youth discluding his age, for aged he seems. His hair is grey at the temples under the hat. A large, unruly beard, clearly once red and brown, is now peppered with the same gray. He is not thin nor muscular nor bronzed. He is, somehow, plain and yet seems not so.
He wears round silver wire-rimmed glasses which don't hide his tired but still twinkling eyes. He sizes up both youths with a look that suggests both great happiness and an autumnal melancholy.
What's up, guys?
The guys, as he's called them, are well-raised and polite boys who have come up in a time when elders still garner some semblance of respect, say hello and ask who he is and what he may want.
Let's just say I'm an alum I used to live in your dorm. Listen, you there, Bubs, tell Willy here a little more about the mechanics of throwing the Frisbee - you know, the wrist spin and the force behind it and that stuff. I don't think he's getting it.
Bubs, whose real name is Bob, smiles and says that the old man seems familiar. The blonde boy agrees and both are not uncomfortable in the older man's presence or that fact he knows their names, in fact they seem drawn to him, as boys sometimes are to men who are comfortable in their wisdom.
Maybe we've met before, I've been around a while. Can I tell you something else?
They are unusually eager to hear what the man might tell them, curiously sensing import for reasons they will wait decades to understand.
They older man sighs and a weight falls on his eyes, and in his heart. There is so much to say and so little that can make a difference.
Let me tell you something, boys, what you are doing right now is important - perhaps the most important thing you'll ever do. I mean more than throwing the Frisbee back and forth. I mean all of it. The parties, the classes, the friends, the relationships. The late night conversations, the fights, the sorrows that will come... the joys that will come. Try to remember a piece of it all. This detail, that one - like how to throw the Frisbee or tie a bandana on your head - will come up again. A child will ask you how it's done...
He looks through the boy's glasses and into his future and the boy understands that, senses it.
... and you'll need the right answers. Right now you are learning them. I promise that. Every moment teaches you for another moment.
He pats the boy in the blue bandana on his shoulder in farewell and then turns to the other boy whose eyes are down looking at the Frisbee. He reaches out and tenderly touches the smooth skin of the boy's face with the palm of his hand, smiles at the wisp of a mustache and patchy beard, and lifts the boys chin so they are looking once again at each other. A tear runs down the boy's face, another begins in the corner creases of the old man's eye. Neither understands why they themselves are teary, but know why the other is. The man-boy asks if he has to go. The boy-man says,
Yes, but we'll meet again. Until we do, remember this: It'll all work out, I promise. I'll see ya, boys.
He turns to walk back the way he came, and seeing something off a ways, smiles and stops, deciding. He turns again, for one last look and one more bit of advice.
Oh, and Bob, throw one a little off and make it land near that group of girls, they're dying to meet you guys. Peace dudes.
The man heads back the way he came. The boys look over at the girls smiling towards them. Bob tells Willy to go long and he knows where he means. He takes off, a long throw meets the blonde boy next to a few girls and another story begins as the old man fades into the future of memory.
When Nick and Zack were perhaps seven, I decided it was time to throw a Frisbee. Seven is too young to throw a Frisbee. Nick had a straight line bruise on his forehead for a week.
Just recently, in the last few weeks, they got it out again. We've thrown several times in the back yard and usually in the driveway before the bus comes. Zack was struggling and out of the blue I remembered Bob telling me about how it all worked, the aerodynamics of it all, and I explain it to him, understanding, finally, ultimately, why he explained it to me some thirty-five years ago.
It's been fun. I think the boys like it because it's different than the the typical ball throwing or kicking. It is also, well, unusual - they don't see it very often and I think they sense the thrill that is uniqueness.
I can't imagine my nineteen year-old self, ever even casually considering the life I now have. Never. Yet, in a way, it seems like I've been a lifetime preparing for it.
I unburied this note from under the pile of scrap I call a desk. It's what started all this today.
Thanks for listening again, I had every intention of writing on Mothers Day. This is not about Mothers Day. Honestly, until that note floated up and into my mind, I didn't know this was what I was going to write this time. When that happens, I believe it is because someone needs to hear it. Perhaps you, or the boys. Perhaps now or some time to come. Perhaps me, now and yesterday and today...
Time is so confusingly fluid. In fact, The Man in The Green Reds Hat has wondered through here before. He's a little creepy...
Oh, and from Marci's "...things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."
"Do The Armadillo!
Fortuitously, Bubs taught me (and about twenty others in a small dorm room) The Armadillo that same year of college. I'm in...