My son has been playing basketball since he received a plastic children’s basketball hoop for his third birthday. At that age, he’d watch the players on TV, studying their moves and trying to recreate them in our living room. When he was fourteen years old, he told me that when he has a basketball in his hand, he feels joy. I told him, if that's the case, then he should always find a way to keep basketball close, even knowing that his formal basketball career would end when he graduated from high school, which he will do in a few weeks. I’ve told him that basketball is part of his origin story. He was born the night of the Final Four, the semi-finals of the annual March Madness college basketball tournament. What I remember most of that long night was the clock perched high above my hospital bed next to the TV with the Final Four on mute, Norah Jones in the CD player on repeat—a sort of twilight zone of time as two long arms circled round the minutes and hours, over and over. I used to drive my son to early morning basketball practice before he was able to drive himself. Most of the time, we’d ride in silence, both still waking up to the day but enjoying each other’s quiet company. Every once in a while, a conversation would emerge. This poem captures one of my favorite moments with him.
The Net (from Within My Illusions) “Never underestimate the importance of the net,” he tells me on the ride to school. Of course. The net. “The net has a huge impact on my shot.” That doesn’t make any sense, I think but don’t say. “Some nets are too thin,” he continues. Why would the net make a difference? The ball doesn’t touch it until after it clears the rim, after you know whether or not the shot has gone in. “I like a net that’s a little stiff, but not too stiff.” But it just hangs there without purpose. You can’t bank the angles like you can on the backboard. I’ve seen the way a funny bounce off the rim can make or break a game. But not the net. “Yep, it’s all in the net.” Finally, I look at him and say, “It’s kinda strange.” “Yeah,” he says, “It’s such a mental game.”
Recently, I sought my son's guidance as I began to frame my poetry offerings as an invitation to take a timeout. I asked my son about timeouts in basketball. What are they used for? When would someone call for one? He told me, “When things are getting really intense in the game, a timeout gives you a chance to catch your breath. You get motivation and inspiration from your teammates and coaches. You can look at the big picture and think about your options for your next moves.”
For almost a year, I’ve been offering monthly Sunday evening gatherings where I share poetry, stories, and songs. Next Sunday, March 23, will be the last in this particular Poetry Timeout series. On Saturday, June 12, I will join with four inspiring teachers and artists to facilitate a retreat called Compassionate Selves for a Compassionate World. I invite you to join me for one or both of these events.
I'll be taking my own timeout after that and look forward to the inspiration that may come in that space as I imagine what's next.