Friday, July 22, 2016

Old Football Injuries and Heartbreaks: Finding Hope of Healing

I have never been and probably will never be a member of an organized sports team, although I sometimes lament not having joined track or cross country in high school.

But, I do have an old football injury.

My friends and I used to play two-hand touch on our high school’s tennis courts during our lunch period. Most of the games were uneventful and not very noteworthy; they were just a good way to pass the time with friends before classes resumed for the afternoon. But on one fateful afternoon glory came within my grasp and I seized it with all my might.

The buzzer indicating we had 3 minutes to get to our next class had rung, the score was tied, and we had just enough time for one more play. It started to rain, there was a thunderclap, and somewhere in the distance, someone was blaring the “Chariots of Fire” theme song loud enough for us to hear. After the snap, I made a quick juke at the line and put some distance between my friend Tony and myself. Carl, the quarterback, launched a high flyer into the end zone. Things went into slow motion as I leapt for the game-winning touchdown. I caught the ball and as I landed I heard a loud pop from my left ankle and immediately found myself on the ground in pain, but having maintained possession. That day I held my head high as I left our netted gridiron: limping and dirty, but victorious.

My next class was gym and by the time our swimming session was done that day my ankle had swollen to the size of a grapefruit. One of the advantages of having a father who is a medical doctor is that I never went to the Emergency Room or even Urgent Care as a child. Growing up I received diagnoses, prescriptions, flu shots, and even stitches from my dad. So, when he got home from work that day and I showed him my ankle his response was, “Yep, that’s sprained, lets get you a boot”. Due to a show choir trip to Branson, MO the next week and the youthful stupidity that’s inherent with being a freshman in high school, I didn’t wear the boot as long as I should have and my ankle didn’t heal properly. To this day, my left foot has a tendency to splay out when I run and bike, which causes me back, hip, and shoulder issues. Also when it’s humid out my ankle has a dull ache that I would rate at about a 2 or 3 on the pain scale. Luckily, I’ve learned how to minimize the discomfort and negative effects this injury through yoga and stretching and it doesn’t deter me from pursuing greatness in the endurance sports that I love.

I recently experienced the emotional equivalent of my old football injury. Facebook brought pictures of my friends at the wedding of a woman I had wanted to date (and hopefully marry) during my college years. Her and I had the same friend group and my heart revolved around the idea of a relationship with her. She wasn’t interested, at all. Instead of giving up the hope of a romantic relationship and moving on I settled for an unhealthy friendship. There were a lot of phone calls and hang out sessions, we shared a lot of coffee, beer, music, and meals, we went to weddings together, and there was a lot of emotional intimacy. When she moved to Minnesota we would call each other and try to start episodes of Grey’s Anatomy at the same time so we could talk about what was happening with each other as the episode unfolded. I was convinced that I was in love with her and that WE were meant to be but, as I’ve said she felt nothing for me romantically. Things finally came to a head about 4 years ago when I decided that her and I either needed to start dating or stop being friends. So, I skipped out on a watching a Packers game at my friend’s house (a sacrilegious act here in Wisconsin), put on a 3-piece suit, bought flowers, and headed to North Minneapolis where she lived at the time. There was a tear-filled meal at a nearby hipster-friendly restaurant (organic, farm fresh, and fair trade with vegan options). Although she didn’t touch her food she paid for everything and I’ve since referred to that meal as the “pre-execution dinner”.  Now, to be fair, my account of what happened over the years may be as embellished as my memory of injuring my ankle, but these are the tapes I’ve replayed in my mind.

In the four years since that last supper I have maybe seen her twice and as an act of emotional health for myself I unfriended her on Facebook. I really didn’t give her much thought until this last Saturday when my friends started posting pictures from her wedding. A not-so-dull heartache overtook me, maybe a 4 or 5 of emotional pain. I was caught of guard by the pain, but not surprised. After all, I had spent years envisioning myself dancing with her in a long, flowing white dress (I am a hopeless romantic). Like humidity exposes my unhealed ankle, those pictures brought my attention to unresolved heartache within me and cause me to ask if there were more parallels between my physical and emotional ailments.

What could I have done to let this wound heal properly?
How is it affecting me to this day?
Are there things I can do now to diminish or eliminate the negative effects of this wound on my life today?
Is there hope of complete healing?
Is there an underlying issue, a wound even deeper than this one?

I don’t have satisfactory answers to any of these questions at the moment. But, in the days since I realized that I’ve been carrying this wound around I’ve determined that if I can still bike 100+ miles in a day and run a half-marathons with a jacked-up ankle this heart wound certainly isn’t fatal and it doesn’t need to have any effect on my pursuit of a great romance now.