I opened my car’s trunk, put my gears in it, swung the car’s door open and drove off. I left home. I hit the escalator and took an unknown road; mindlessly, no plan, no direction. Suddenly, my cell phone rang. I let it ring for a few seconds, but it would not stop. It was my Dad’s call.
It’s not the time to start playing it safe. Dad’s voice was in my head. With a lump in my throat and his voice reeling in my memory, I kept driving, ignoring his phone call.
Sweetheart, you have to drop! That’s playing to lose. You got to listen to me.
I heard Dad’s scream in my head again.
I could not take it anymore. I’ve been listening to you my whole life. I had yelled back.
Finally I took the phone and threw it out of the window — as hard as I could. The phone hit the road and shattered into pieces. I didn’t care. I was raging in anger. How could a game have such an effect on someone’s soul? The way I saw it, how could it not? You don’t choose the game. It chooses you and when it does — life and football become forever connected. That’s how it was for a young girl like me; a young girl named Lisa.
After a while I hit a T-section — one going to Zion and the other to Mesa. I took the left turn towards Zion.
You have got to be kidding me. I muttered.
Right in front of me I saw a big, football field. I kept driving. Mind wondering, eyes marvelling at the natural beauty surrounding the field, I lost balance and almost hit a cow. My car shot right in — breaking the fence. I had managed to save the cow though. The engine started smoking. It was hard to get out of the car as the doors were stuck. I slithered my way out through the window. Exhausted and hurt, I lay on the grass gazing up at the clear blue sky, while the cow kept bellowing.
Once you make one mistake, you just continue to make the same mistake. I couldn’t get dad’s voice out of my head.
I got up, took my gears out and threw them on the ground. I leaned against the car and started sipping water from my bottle. The birds were chirping in the horizon. It felt as if I had been transported to a different world where there was peace. The scenery was beautiful and serene, quiet and cool. My tranquility was broken when all of a sudden I recalled how my father walked away from the football field after I had lost the game.
Submerged in my thoughts, I heard a horse’s whinnies.
“Are you hurt dear?” a man on the saddle, in his 60’s approached me, got off the saddle and walked towards me.
“I’ll get over it.” I smiled at him.
“Are you the guy I saw dribbling the ball in the field?” I asked him.
“Yeah! And are you that young lady who just crashed through my fence!?” He chuckled.
“Here, let me help you.” He offered me his hand.
“Tony Simmons’s the name!”
“Lisa.” I introduced myself.
“Let me see that; put a little pressure on it and it will stop bleeding.” Tony handed me his handkerchief after examining my bleeding forehead.
He asked a few young men of the village to tow my car to the body shop for repair.
Tony requested me to be his guest as there were no Inns or hotels in the village. I humbly accepted his invitation and we rode off to his house. On the way I realized that Zion is a small village.It has just 375 residents as Tony stated. We reached Tony’s house, where the first person I saw was Tony’s wife, Zess.
“Don’t you even think about coming in here with those!” she glared at my dirty shoes.
“You must be the one who ran off the road. What did you do? Fall asleep at the wheel?” she chortled.
In a small village news spreads like wildfire.
“Well, come on in, and close the door behind you.” Zess commanded.
“You are good looking, blind as a bat may be! Are you married? The neighbor’s boy is looking for a wife.” Zess bombarded me with questions.
“No Ma’am, I’m not married.” I grinned. The house looked more like a cabin. Rough, pine wood logs everywhere made the house look very rustic and authentic. The high ceiling with a vintage fan, the crackling fire, the smell of burning wood with chimney and iron kettle gave me a welcome warmth — as if I was at home. I could almost taste the freshness of the crisp and night air.
“There’s an extra towel if you need, but it’s ok to use the same one twice. We’ll have breakfast at eight so don’t be late.” Zess patted my shoulder affectionately and left the room. I made myself comfortable as I unpacked my bag, looking through the large glass window.
I turned on the T.V. The news was going on.
“This is the Central News channel and I’m Todd Lewis. We begin with that unbelievable story that happened at the New York Pro Football League. Lisa is a name that we have all had on our radar screen ever since she won the Ohio League, but what happened to her today was unbelievable. Folks if you have not seen this highlight before, sit back and enjoy! It’s something you’ll not forget. Lisa’s team had a one shot lead over Chicago League but still lost. Her father Mr. Jacob as the coach, walked away from the daughter after the attempt of her final failed goal…and the daughter had started into a meltdown. ”
The news anchor kept going on and on to my agony. I could have turned that one shot to a winning goal but I failed. In embarrassment my father walked off the field with his head down. I was heartbroken. Tears trickled down my cheeks. Every single day that I had practiced football with him — kept rewinding in my head. The humiliation, the fatigue, the competitiveness had left me exhausted over the years. I never enjoyed my life as a small kid. No easter, no holidays, no weekends, no child’s play… nothing at all. All I did was practiced football, played leagues and won trophies or got reprimanded by my father. Why? Because he was my father and my coach. He expected too much from me.
I walked around in Tony’s home, looking at the pictures of him playing professional football. Just then Tony entered the room, smiling.
“Tough day, huh!? He sighed.
“I have had better days too.” I said, forcing a smile.
“I saw you on T.V. I gotta say, it was painful to watch.” Tony felt really sorry for me.
“Try living it.” My smile wavered.
“Believe me, I have played professional football for quite a while; had my ups and downs. You want an observation?” Tony sounded sincere.
“You have the mechanics, you just don’t know what it means to play the game in front of the ball.” Tony remarked.
“I am debating on picking up football ever again in my life.” I moaned, choking back my tears.
“I have a proposition for you! Spend seven days with me in Zion, you’ll find your game.” Tony manifested his approval by patting my head.
“Seven days? I don’t know!” I hesitated.
“Well, it will take that long to get your car fixed, you know! So think about it, all right?. I’ll be at the football field at 9:00 AM tomorrow morning.” Tony almost commanded and I nodded. Thus, I was trapped in this village for seven days.
Next morning I went to the football field. Tony was already practicing his mini squats.
“The toughest challenge you’ll face is not the football field or your competitors score; it’s that casual comment offered by someone; anyone, about how you should be doing it. If you don’t have conviction about where your foundation lies, that off-handed comment will erode your confidence, you got that?” Tony opened up his heart to me.
“Yes, Sir!” I nodded whole heartedly.
That day I practiced a lot. Worked on my volleys and legs; one at a time, worked on my speed, forward and backward between the cones. The skills, the professionalism, the passion, and above all the human emotions in Tony made me very curious to know more about him.
“You are not from here I suppose! How did you end up here?” I inquired.
“Well, not exactly. I’ve lived in a lot of places; been around here and there with the military.” Tony guffawed.
“You ask a lot of questions young lady! I burnt all my bridges. There was no place to turn, but this village.” He chuckled.
“I am going to see you tomorrow morning down by the river, day break; all right?” Tony smiled at me.
“What does the river have to do with football?”
“You’ll see!” he grinned.
Next morning I arrived at the river.
“Rhythm, balance, patience! That’s what you need to stay in your game. The same with fly-fishing — it takes a calm mindset, a focus on the feel, rather than the outcome. It takes emotional control.” Tony smiled and took his boat for fly-fishing. His calmness was remarkable. He came out with a big fish, dangling in front of me.
“Tell me what was his downfall?” Tony pointed at the fish.
“He took the bait.” I sneered.
“Yes!, But why? Tony retorted.
“I’m not sure! Maybe because the fish was hungry.”
“No — because he was mad and I teased him with a shadow casting, never quite letting the fly touch the water, and so I was able to take this fish out of the game today. Now, are you ready to try?” Tony asked.
Rhythm, balance, patience; Rhythm, balance, patience.
Repeating these words in my mind, I went in the river with the boat. Soon I caught a fish. It was a successful day for me. That night Tony showed me a few pictures of a popular football player, Walter Smith.
“30 years ago, this man took me out of my game. You know how? By staying in his game. The calmer he was, the madder I got, and I tried shots, I wouldn’t ordinarily take. Tomorrow we will meet at the football field; 8:00 am sharp.” Tony commanded without flinching and waved goodnight.
In the morning I got up with the crows of roosters. I checked the clock, it was already late. I ran to the field. Tony was right there.
“I’m sorry.” I stood there; head down.
“It’s not good to be late in life, dear! Time is too precious to waste.” Tony looked disappointed.
“I said I was sorry.”
“If this was a game, you’d be disqualified. If you want to play like a professional, you have to act like one. All right? Now take your seat.” Tony had stiffened his face.
The place was an open field. There was a tree with a wide trunk, a chair and a blank canvas on the stand with paints and brushes. I sat on the chair for Tony’s further instructions.
“Today we are going to paint.” Tony motioned me to pick up my paint brush. I was puzzled, but had no choice.
“All games start with a blank canvas; we paint the shots with our eyes first, so our bodies can produce accurately.” Tony cleared his throat.
He put the goal post far away from the tree trunk, obscured from my view. He asked me to paint a picture of my strategy to shoot a goal in that scenario. Tony was happy with my painting and asked me to implement my painting in real life. I kicked the ball and it made it right into the goal post. I was exhilarated. I kept the painting on my room shelf as if I had won a trophy.
Dad, looks like we’re gonna have to add another shelf. Maybe one day there’ll be a Texas League trophy on the shelf. I had cheered one day.
There’s no ‘maybe’ in this world Lisa, you understand? Dad snarled.
Now rephrase it.
One day there will be a Texas League trophy on this shelf. I said with a lump in my throat.
I’m counting on you. He left the room.
Next day was my 6th day in Zion. Tony planned for game practice that day. We started early in the morning and kept practicing. Suddenly it started raining heavily, hard to even see the ball, let alone aim and kick.
“It’s time to wrap up dear!” Tony ordered.
“Let’s do just one more goal.”
“One goal doesn’t matter Lisa.”
“It matters to me.”
“It’s not the lesson; that was never the lesson.” Tony shouted.
“You spent the whole week teaching me how to play the best football of my life. Now I am playing it.” I shouted back. I was mad. I kicked the ball and it missed the goal post by a hairline.
“All right, you don’t have to prove anything to me Lisa, because I’m not your father. You can’t spend your life trying to validate yourself with a game score.”
“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” Tony walked away sullenly.
It was my last and 7th day. I woke up and went looking for Tony. He was digging a hole in the village graveyard.
“I am sorry.” I said.
“I forgive you Lisa.”
“Whose grave are you digging?”
“You’ll soon see.”
“What is your epitaph going to say? What do you want people to say about you when you are gone! Maybe it’ll say ‘you shot a goal!’, Huh? Or maybe leave it blank for now.” Tony stood up.
“I want it to say something.” Tears flowing on my cheeks.
“It will,” Tony nodded. “But I don’t think your coming here was an accident, but only you can decide what to do from here on out, because there’s nothing more I can teach you.”
“Thank you Tony.”
“Don’t thank me, thank God, who is around us. Just see it, feel it, trust it. S.F.T.” With that Tony handed me a box. It had a pencil, two pieces of paper and an envelope with instructions, which said:
“Lisa, one paper is for writing down all your truths you learnt during your time in Zion. The truth, that life is about faith, relationships, character and integrity. The other piece of paper is for writing down all the lies you have been told during your life. Lies like your game score being a reflection of your true identity and self worth, or that failure in a football game is failure in life. Take the truth with you but bury the lies right here and chisel your living epitaph.”
I did what the letter asked me to do. I felt like I was born again, living for the first time. My car was repaired. Just before leaving, Tony gave me a slip and said, “the main sponsor of Texas League is my dear friend, and as a personal favor he will offer you one free exemption.” I could not believe it, because playing in the Texas tournament was a rare opportunity.
“I don’t know what to say!” I hugged him overwhelmingly.
“Well I think between you and me, he’s probably waiting to see another melt down and I hope you prove him wrong.” Tony patted my back affectionately.
I left with a heavy heart, thanking everyone. I reached home late at night. My mother gave me a warm welcome but Dad was hesitant to look in my eyes.
“Lisa, my actions last week were wrong. I pushed you your whole life to succeed at football, and I never once asked if that’s what you wanted. I’m sorry.” Dad said with regret.
“I forgive you Dad!” We hugged. “ Hey Dad, I almost forgot, would you like to coach me this week for the upcoming Texas League.” Dad nodded with a smile.
It was the game day. The stadium was jam packed. The game started and we exceeded the expectation. It was a marvelous game for our team, and I was happy with my performance. So far the game was a tie. Our star player, Jenny was weaving with ease through the Redbacks defense and then she took a shot with a few minutes on the clock! The ball missed by a long shot and took our dwindling hope with it. We all knew that it was the time for the referee to blow the whistle, so we trudged off the field. But out of nowhere, he blew his whistle again and yelled, “why are you leaving the field!? It’s a penalty.” Our jaws dropped in surprise and hope resurfaced within us. We all raced back onto the pitch, and together the team shrieked, “Let Lisa take it.”
I stood frozen as I lined up to take the most important shot of the game.
I see it, I feel it, and I trust it.
Everything was frozen in slow motion as the ball flew past the goalie.
I guess you are asking yourselves whether or not my team, and I won the game. The better question is — does it really matter? How can a game have such an effect on a person’s soul.
Zion is defined as a place of mythical perfection. But I knew differently. Zion is indeed real. It is a place where the voice of truth resides and eternal trophies line the shelves. A place where there are no accidents.
* Prompt: Football Player; Gets stranded or trapped; village
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