A Bad Call

November 13th, 2009

“Adversity causes some men to break, and others to break records.”- William Ward

Heartbreaking is a word often associated with soccer matches that come down to shoot-outs after long extended play has not been able to decipher a winner. Five players against the goalie; whoever scores more goals wins. It is a terrible win, hardly reflective of the fact that it is merely luck that decides the winner. The moment of the kick after the whistle blows is seconds long, but similar to car crashes where time slows to a halt the ‘in’ breath lasts a while. Reaction time between players is clocked in milliseconds, like how Olympic swimmers win races; time as long as a fingernail.

I have seen my share of shoot-outs, but never once have I seen a call against the goalie on a stop. Recently, when our goalie did the impossible and made the stop, the referee made a bad call. It was a legal call, although I had never heard of it- the ref reversed the amazing save and gave the kicker another shot. Slicing time so thin, no one in the audience even knew what was happening or why. Then, in another moment, the match was gone. The goalie, my friend, lay with his face in the turf.

Moments like these when you win, but end up losing through no fault of your own make you question the goodness of life. And yet, they are not as rare as we wish they were. The truth is that even in our shining moments, life can and will throw you bad calls. Between my two sons and their gang of friends I have witnessed many bad calls in almost any sport you can think of. These are the kind of bad calls, which force you to learn the grace of losing and yet make you question whether fairness actually exists or is just something we’ve invented to balance the lack of it in daily life.

It’s odd when I think how much time I spent teaching the concept of fairness and equity to my children. I wanted them to understand and practice it even as they continuously experience its failings. When it fails, I reverted to the standard reply, ‘It was a good game anyway and it’s important to learn to lose gracefully.’ I knew my response never took the sting out of the unfairness, just changed the focus to remembering the importance of the effort and the game. On the other hand, as an adult, I knew that even as I teach the idea of fairness, bad calls are as constant as the sun rising.

It is not just with the inadequate referees that we experience bad calls in life. Relationships, the sports field of the heart has left many a victim of the bad call lying face down in the dirt. Try as we may, we are still faced daily with people who love us imperfectly, fail to appreciate us or our actions, and completely overlook the big win. Heartbreaking as these bad calls are, the only reasonable choice left to us is to practice the art of selective memory.

My friend, the goalie, made a perfect save in the last moments of his high school soccer career. In a moment the victory became the defeat. Years from now, when he remembers the countless hours of team practice and training that shaped his life what will he remember of this match- the save or the loss? I hugged him and told him that 30 years from now he will remember the save. I planted my hope in him, a fragile sprout of a thing, that he uses his right to selective memory to remember the courage, the stop, the save, not the inane ridiculous bad call.

Choosing to remember our goodness in the face of life’s bad calls is all we have. Fairness starts there.

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