I had the words a few minutes ago. I sit down to write, though, and I realize they’re fleeting. My mind goes back and forth, wanting to write and share, and then wanting to close my eyes until sleep takes me. But I’m going to write. They’re mere words, and while they’ll never be enough, they help me express in the best way that I can the memories I share with Sarah. I find myself telling friends about her, smiling through tears as I recount how she was the first one running onto the field after a spectacular catch by one of our campers, the time she half-carried me off the field due to a cramp, the chocolate-spitting contest that occurred late one night. I find myself thinking back to her competitiveness, her passion for the game, her commitment to our campers and our objective, her confidence in others’ abilities to succeed. The night before the campers arrived the year Sarah and I coached together, our coaching team met and talked about our roles and what we wanted to teach and accomplish. After the meeting I expressed to Sarah that I was more comfortable working with individual campers, and nervous about teaching the whole group. She just looked right back at me, and said, “Well, you’re teaching forehand, then.” I don’t remember what the exact skill was, but I do remember just laughing. She was right; I was there to learn too. She wasn’t going to let me take the easy, comfortable way out. And her confidence in me calmed my nerves, which is why I was successful.
I cherish the memories I share with Sarah. I may not have another opportunity to coach with her, but all that I have learned from her will stay with me. Ultimate Peace, and everything I have learned and become as a result of my time with its members is an inherent part of who I am. I may not be able to talk to Sarah and ask for her advice, but everything I received from her is inherent in the way that I learn and teach every day, no matter where I am.
I think back to a couple weeks ago. I was sitting on the sideline of our makeshift field in the gym at school with a new teammate, trying to stretch out a lingering injury from soccer season. My teammate asked how it was feeling, knowing it was from soccer, and the relationship between the two sports must have been on her mind. “Which sport is in your heart?”
I looked at her, at the ground, back at her, to the disc right next to me. I picked it up, feeling around the lip, fingers treading the ridges and feeling the scratches and indentations that show it’s been a well-loved disc. “I don’t know if I can answer that,” I said, slowly. “I love soccer. I’ve played since I was four, I’ve put my heart into it, and everything I have.” I paused, looking for words. Something was missing. I didn’t know how to verbally express what I wanted to say next. “But when I pick up a disc” – I turned the one in my hands – “somehow, everything’s okay in the world. I can be at peace.”
I looked back at my friend, and felt a smile start. “I guess there’s my answer.” I don’t know what kind of answer she was expecting. Probably not that one. But the truth is I’ve been trying to figure out why a circular piece of plastic can set my mind at ease, can make the rest of the world melt away. I’ve thought a lot about why playing Ultimate, or throwing a disc across a gym, or even just picking one up, can give me so much joy – real, true, often-difficult-to-find joy.
I think it all comes down to the nature of the game, and the experiences I’ve had with it. The first time I played organized Ultimate was in high school, and it marks a period of change for the better in my life. That summer, I learned something new, but what was special about the experience was the huge learning curve and my consciousness to it. I was thrown into a group made up of members who already knew how to play, and all I had going for me was athleticism. It was challenging to keep up, to say the least, but I had the competitiveness and the athleticism to stay afloat. It was more than that, though – I loved every minute. I could feel the learning curve; I could feel myself getting better each practice and that was an incredible feeling.
And then I began my time with Ultimate Peace. That had a huge learning curve of its own: my ability to reach out to others and create a bridge to close the gaps in our relationships. I met some of the most incredible people I’ve ever known: the most dedicated, loyal, hard-working, brilliant, and joyful people I could ever imagine. It might be “a marathon and a sprint” (David Barkan), but it’s one that each of us carries out with genuine joy. These people – they’ll work into the late hours of the night and early hours of the morning day after day, night after night, and they never lose the smiles, the competitive edge, and the love for the game that make it all worthwhile.
Those 175 grams hold so much more than plastic. Some of it is light, and some heavy. They hold the smiles of hour upon hour of night-time 500. They hold the richness of culture. They hold difference and they hold unity. They hold the tears of goodbyes: both annual and life-long.
That 175 gram piece of plastic that I held in my hands when my friend asked me what was in my heart sent strength through my fingertips and into my heart. That disc filled me – not with memories, exactly, but more with the strength and the warmth inherent in those memories. Because when I think about the tears in those goodbyes, I am reminded that sadness comes from love. And as we navigate the grief we feel for our peer, coach, mentor, and friend Sarah, we also inherently express our love. As we miss her smile and laugh, we bring to light all that she has given to us.
As I pick up that disc, and every disc, and feel the strength and love and pride and everything else that Ultimate has given me, I feel the memories of those both near and far who have guided me. Sarah is one of many who have helped to create the peace I feel upon picking up those 175 grams. Sarah, you were a powerful force in this group we call Ultimate Peace. A force with whom I am honored and grateful to have had the chance to coach. You will always be a part of what gives me peace, of what I imagine gives us all peace. Thank you. We love you. Peace, Salaam, Shalom.