Maybe it's because I have another pretty high number birthday scuttling across the horizon, aimed perfectly at defenseless little me. Maybe it's because I just wrapped up a big writing project, and I miss the adrenalized work of creating believable characters, thus my 'in' bin is bereft of something exciting to which I could move. It could be that I've developed a low-grade dose of Low T or a surprise old-age onset of mono, the dreaded young person's ailment traceable to kissing. But I sense that I really know what's getting me down in the mouth, as my parents used to say.
Put as simply as I can, I am adjusting to being benched or, as some would say, relegated to second- or third-string existentially. Two things teach me this is true. One, my uniform is always as clean as the moment I put it on this morning in the locker room before the game. And, two, I'm sitting here at my proverbial workstaton bench sketching these sentences, barely able to keep my heart and mind attuned to the things going on around me -- boredom and inattention are usually major problems for non-starting roster guys. Well, there's one more thing to add, a third factor. No one called my name out to the crowd over the public address system as today's gameday action (or inaction, it's all relative) was about to get underway. So, have a seat and try to enjoy the view.
Throughout life, I will therefore conclude, there are starters, relievers, and bench jockeys. Not counting coaches and managers. Every person takes a role. One time, when I was a kid, my favorite major league ball team had a roster player named Chico Ruiz (no, not the Saturday Nite Live parody character, Chico Escuela). This was a good-natured Dominican guy who was real and who was living the MLB dream in Los Estados Unidos. Chico was a fairly good shortstop. But what made him a stand-out kind of man was that he knew and accepted his rightful place in the big picture of sports and life.
One year, during June, the team's outstanding starting shortstop sustained an injury that kept him out of a series of ball games. He was a Venezuelan guy whose true name was Leo. But he was a shortstop from Latin America so of course every player, fan, and coach knew him as Chico also.
For two to three games, things were confusing. Now batting for Chico One is Chico Two. When a nice play was made at short, someone would say Chico is doing a great, great job filling in for Chico. -- Playing full-time, as a starter, bereft of his well-worn and accepted spot on the hardwood, was tough on Chico Ruiz. Two games, then three, then four in a row he jogged out to his position before the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. He had to concentrate on the game's strategy inning after inning. Sometimes he had to run the bases, slide, and get his uniform dirty. The stresses that this good-natured, mediocre player stored up finally found a breaking point.
After five straight, whole games on the playing field, Chico marched into the team manager's office. He demanded, That's it, chief. This is too muvh. All I got to say is 'bench me or trade me.'
Spectacular moments such as these make competitive sports, and of course life, worth some of the fuss and bother.
Some people, like me, have been starters, in the thick of the action, all of our lives. This brings oportunities, affirmations, attention from others, the coolness of being a somebody, and other tangible and intangible goodies -- because that's just the way the world works. The really good players get interviewed, have their pictures put up, get spoken to by name deferentially, get paid well, and look sharp. The perennial starter or first-stringer does not have to drag her/himself into motion, get focused, stand at attention, straighten their uniforms, etc., just to plug up a position hole, or bat for someone, late in the game, referred to often as 'garbage minutes' so a star or other favored player(s) can chill for a while.
It's a gift to accept oneself flexibly as a 'bench me or trade me' kind of performer. Some gamers, myself included, even as the natural energies and skills, and eyesight, et.al., go bad, will never find such peace. Being on top or near the top is intoxicating and sometimes rewarding. The worst part of this unsettled, 'go to plan B' condition (a form of deterioration) remsins that second-string or third string status is often a forced sitz em leben (funky situation), just the way in which the old mop flops, as one slides unsteadily from experience to experience, from year to year, from one team to the next.
So, help me to change the things, like my worries and my choices, while I can. Help me to not stress about the things I cannot. Shed some wisdom that'll help me recognize how I should proceed, one thig at a time. Give me the patience (and not resentment) to remember that even people who sit outside the spotlights, in the semi-darkness of gameday, are called on to make a difference -- like a reluctant Chico stepping in for the star Chico -- usually when it's least anticipated.