If you play soccer or you are a fan of the sport, you will understand the joy that comes when the ball is in the net. Some of the scorers skid on their knees over the field while others break into a dance as a way of celebration.
Dancing is my preference when I score. My dancing style is to sway, and wiggle my trunk and elbows. Since you can only dance if you score, I try so hard to score. I might get three goals on a good day, and that is three opportunities every Saturday to show my celebration dance.
Don’t stop to wonder why a man at age fifty-six would waste away his life and risk bodily injuries playing soccer. There is no way I can explain it; just know that I do, every Saturday morning, and if my knees permit (because it is the knees that are the problem) I intend to continue for the foreseeable future.
On this particular Saturday morning, the game did come to an end, but as usual too fast for my liking. I took possession of my sweater which I had left on a side table and began to walk among the other sweat-soaked players towards the exit sign of the indoor soccer arena.
Upfront, Alex and Pedro were sitting down on the Astroturf, taking off their soccer boots, stuffing them into duffel bags and putting their heads, their arms in their street clothes.
‘You saw my four goals today and my dance?’ I shouted as I approached them.
‘Yes, we did! How many goals did you score last year?’ Alex responded.
‘We lost count of the number of goals you scored,’ added Pedro.
‘You are a really scoring machine,’ said Alex, ‘but the problem is that you don’t play defense, and that is why other players don’t like you. Mix up your game, play defense sometimes.’
‘You know,’ I began to say, ‘as long as my mother loves me, I don’t care who hates——-‘ a sentence which was interrupted by, ‘Your celebration dance sucks.’ I turned, and it was Mike speaking.
Mike is a short thirty-something; he could be younger or older, but estimating the age of a short man is like reading the oracle. In any case, Mike is one of those short-statured men who for some reason think that in order to mask their lack of height their voice must tear down walls; their shoulders are in constant elevation, and their entire muscle system humped and knotted.
Anyway, Mike had walked by, and on his way out of the soccer arena, very near the exit door, he decided to turn back. With a smirk on his face and two cold, unmoving eyes he said, ‘You know what? Your goal celebration dance sucks.’
Silence came upon Pedro, Alex and me. Holy crap! How does one begin to respond? Is this an insult or banter? Some people, like my brother Vince, have the gift of quickly decoding this vital difference in a comment, but I don’t. Vince reacts like a viper when he decides who to bite back or who to spare.
Though Mike and I have played pick-up soccer together for a couple of years, our contacts have been largely limited to when I chip a little on his ankles or pry the ball out from between his feet. On many occasions he has briefly stood, glaring in my face, both eyes in full beam; but in the end has backed down, with an understanding that what I have done is within the limits of a clean game.
What kind of response would ‘Your celebration dance sucks,’ deserve? Similar cynical comments are plentiful everywhere. It could have been an uncle or an aunt saying your soccer shoes suck, your ideas suck, your degrees sucks, your wealth sucks, your hair sucks, or your stories suck.
On a plain, tit-for-tat level, the comment deserves a ‘Shut up, you short idiot’ response. But it happened that on that day, in that moment, I was not at a shallow level of mind. I happened to be at a deeper level, which prompted me to brood over the comment. ‘Where is this fellow coming from?’
Is his comment, the longest sentence he has said to me in two years, an overture for a better relationship in the future? If it is, then hurling an insult at him would destroy such a budding intent.
But what if his comment is an outright decision to ridicule me, a way to project an imaginary dominance of a diminutive physique? Then a kindhearted ‘turn the other cheek’ response could actually embolden him further. Did he need to be confronted, an eye for an eye, while we wait for Judgment Day?
Throwing one insulting word to counter another insulting word is easy; what is hard is to tell what is in the heart of the men and women who throw insulting words around, and whether, as my seventeen-year-old son said, they deserve a compassionate response.
Some highly emotional people have reacted forcefully to mere banter, only to recognize their folly shortly afterwards. They apologize profusely, but the harm has been done; they have let their guard down, exposing the childishness lurking inside every adult man.
Misinterpretation of a comment is a common mistake many people make. My late uncle Ralph, though everybody in the village said he was a kind man with a good heart, prospered on benign mockery, and was always on the edge between praise and criticism; he lived to be one hundred and four years old.
Without a doubt, the world unfortunately is filled with people who are out to destroy others with venomous words. How do you recognize those people so that you can respond adequately, because if you don’t they will walk all over you all the time?
If you are the recipient of a negative comment, asking for clarification may help gain insight into the heart of a detractor. However, enemies always muddy up their original intent during clarification.
While negative comments spur some men into creative energy, they may devastate a child, a young adult and even adults who lack confidence or self-awareness.
But that very Saturday I was immaculate in my mood and would not allow anybody to steal my joy. After a thoughtful, brief moment, and with a broad smile, I looked Mike in the face and answered, ‘I will come up with a new and a better dance next week.’ A response which soothed his disturbed little soul.