‘I can write about anything’

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A few days ago I had a post in mind. About cricket. I can’t remember what it was now. I think something to do with The Hundred. But it’s completely gone.

Yesterday I had a post in mind. This time it most definitely was about The Hundred, and what it’s doing to the County Championship fixture schedule for 2020 which was leaked early by The Mail. It shunted the majority of the matches into early spring or late fall. Kneecapping it when its already been kneecapped a few dozen times already. The post went something like this:

When I was in college I worked part time at a financial services firm. It was during the bust of the tech bubble and a couple times the bottom dropped completely out of the market, leaving the entire office shell shocked. It’s not like the movies. When the market drops, the firms are silent. The next day after such a collapse I was out smoking with one of the firm’s old timers. He had to be 70 years old, he had been trading stocks since the 60s. He told me that he didn’t mind the big drops. What he minded were the years back in the 70s when for months and months the market would drop just a little bit every single day. He likened it to — pardon the analogy — have ones balls placed in a vice and the vice tightened just a little more each day.

This is what’s happening in cricket. The administrators have the game in a vice, and they are going to squeeze it until all the money is gone and all that’s left is the dust of the game we all once loved.

I normally try to be positive about the supposed death of cricket. It’s all the boy who cried wolf, or Mark Twain’s famous quote about the rumors of his death … etc. The game in so many ways is actually really thriving. And the game has always experienced sea changes of all shapes and sizes, and it weathered those changes, and this might all just be a bit of growing pains. Stick with it to the other side, we’ll be all right. Maybe this was because I was always looking for that one cataclysmic event that would take down the game, something I think we are all guilty of now and again. But it’s not going to be one thing. It’s going to be many little things, slowly draining the blood of the sport onto the ground until all that’s left is a lifeless husk.

Dramatic? Sure. The good news is that we still have a few more years. Though I find myself already mourning, mourning that I never got to enjoy cricket — especially first class cricket — in its heyday. Those days are gone already. Drained into the dust where soon their brothers and sisters will join them.

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And that’s all I had. A post that I had written several times before. A post written by others more astutely all the time. James Morgan just did it yesterday. And he is 10 times the cricket writer I’ll ever be.

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Over the weekend I had an idea for a post about a modern dance retelling of Swan Lake that I had gone to which was a lot of things but mostly was a meditation on depression and a scathing takedown of modern day Ireland. But I didn’t write that one either.

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The Tweet at the top is in reference to what’s happening to the once brilliant Deadspin, which for a long time was the best written site on the internet. And now it’s being dismantled and left to rot by the side of the road. Following the story, I was struck by its easy comparison to cricket, another beloved institution being slowly but surely gutted by its caretakers. But in that thinking I also realized that it is also about this blog too. It’s a cricket blog, yes, of course. I write about cricket a lot, and have for many years now. But it’s also about a lot more than that. For the last 18 months I have written almost primarily about my divorce and the shell of my former self it left me with. I couldn’t not write about that, it seeped into every post, even the ones that were simply nuts and bolts cricket.

Because John Moe is correct. There is only writing.

I used to feel a little guilty for boring the audience I had built writing about cricket with nonstop posts about depression, but I know I shouldn’t. Writing is writing. There’s the famous Virginia Woolf quote: “I can write anything.” And that is so freeing. Writing is writing. I have to write what I need to write, and this is the space have I carved out in which to do that. You can’t write about anything without also writing about yourself. There is no line between the two. One does not exist without the other.

This line of thinking brought me full circle:

There is only cricket.

All the formats are linked. Once cannot exist without the other. Despite what the cynics of the world might tell you. There’s no good cricket or bad cricket, there is only cricket. Broken, beautiful, outrageous, peaceful cricket. The game’s past does not exist without its future, and of course the opposite is true, so why mourn that the past is gone when the past led you to where we are now?

In an article written after the death of Prince, Hanif Abdurraqib wrote that while we mourn the dead, we can take solace in the fact that the body — which acted as a boundary for all that humans want and need, for all expression and desire — is no longer an obstacle, and their energy and life can spread out over the whole world, infecting us all.

So it is with cricket. The County Championship will someday die. But what it leaves behind will be all the richer for it. All the more beautiful.

There is only cricket.

Singing in the old bars, swinging with the old stars

Up until two weeks ago, I had been using the same old ancient iPhone 5 that I got way back in the early spring of 2015. I couldn’t update the software. I couldn’t take pictures because the storage was full. I couldn’t download any apps and even if I could I couldn’t use them because my iOS was too out of date.

But I was fine with it. I could still use it to surf Instagram and Twitter and send text messages and check email and Slack and order an Uber and use Google Maps. What else did I really need?

Then a couple weeks back the phone started to experience what is called “GPS drift.” In that, it never knew quite where I was. Uber drivers would be trying to pick me up five blocks away. Google Maps became useless. The situation was becoming a little untenable.

And so one Saturday two weeks back I went out to breakfast and then to the AT&T store where I got an iPhone 8 and, wham, just like that, I am back in the zeitgeist.

The following weekend I was staying out at my mother’s to help her with a couple things around the house that I wish she would sell but she won’t. There’s not a ton to do out there in the evenings. It’s either watch crime dramas with mom and stepdad, or hang out and read or surf the internet in my childhood bedroom. It was about this time that I realized that I could download games onto my new phone. Huzzah. I could sit up in my darkened bedroom and play games with headphones on until all hours.

I pulled up CNET’s “Top 50 iPhone Games” article and picked out a few that sounded up my alley. One of those games was a side scrolling snowboarding game called Alto’s Adventure. Apparently it is a beloved classic in the mobile gaming community, but I had never heard of it before, but I could immediately see why. It’s easily the most fun I have had playing a video game in decades. Probably since The Legend of Zelda when I was 10. It’s beautiful and atmospheric and downright fun. The music is like Philip Glass classical with repetition and rhythm. And there is this, for lack of a better word, sweetness to it that is so hard describe, and this despite the fact that it is literally just a character snowboarding down a mountain, jumping over rocks and doing backflips over chasms.

As you are snowboarding down the mountain you collect coins, which then when you have enough you can use to purchase additional gadgets in the game’s store. Stuff like hover boost and a horn that calls a llama herd (for real) and that kind of thing. One of the items is a crash helmet, which you can use to revive yourself after a fall. But just once. And since it’s just once, the game gives you the option to either use it or not use it, and gives you a short amount of time in which to decide. You have to think about where you are in your run, if you are close to hitting one of the level’s goals, or about to set a distance record, and then pull the trigger all while the seconds tick down, your thumb hovering over the red X for decline and the black checkmark for use.

It’s a nerve-racking. And of course it made me think of cricket right off the bat. And those 10 seconds where the batsmen or the captain of the fielding team have to decide whether to use a review or not on a close call. In that decision, there are an infinite number of factors to determine: the score, the time of the day, how many reviews you have left, what innings you are in. And that’s getting started, we haven’t even gotten to the considerations of the actual play itself. Was there an edge or was it bat hitting pad? Was it pitching outside off? Was it going to hit the stumps or was it going over? Hurry up. Make the decision. Time is a-wasting. Your captaincy is on the line. The game is on the line. Make the call and own it.

In the video game, it makes my palms sweat just a little. It’s silly but it’s true. And so I cannot imagine what is like on the field when a decision of that magnitude needs to be made. There’s a sport called chess boxing where participants play chess in between rounds of boxing. And there’s also the biathlon, where athletes cross country ski for scores of kilometers, interspersed by having to hit a target with a rifle. Calm your nerves, steady your heart rate, control your breathing, squeeze the trigger. Chess boxing is a little bit of a sideshow, but I have always considered the biathlon to be one of the toughest sports on earth.

But cricket, when you step back from it, is the same way. Batting is exhausting, both mentally and physically. It takes supreme focus working in concert with supreme athleticism. And then all of a sudden from out of nowhere the umpire calls you out but you are pretty damn sure you didn’t edge it and you have ten seconds to change gears, calm your nerves, see the whole game in your head, talk to your partner, and make the call. I never really thought about it like that before until I played this silly video game. It’s an intruiging part of the game that I always just kind of glossed over as a moment of beauracracy in what is otherwise a ballet of sorts. But it’s a moment. A hard moment. Calm your nerves. Slow your heart. Steady your hands. See the whole field. Squeeze the trigger. Make the call.

It’s just another facet of this wonderful sport that has an infinite number of them. A new one is waiting around every corner for us to discover. I will never look at the DRS call the same way again. All thanks to this silly little video game and a weekend at my mother’s house.

Cricket for Americans: So what’s happening now?

The international side of American sports is mostly non-existent. There’s no such thing in gridiron football. In baseball there’s the World Baseball Classic but that is a bit of a farce and rarely attracts the word’s best players. For basketball and hockey the Olympics every four years can be a really big deal if the NBA and the NHL decide to release their players, but that’s not always the case. Soccer, of course, has a huge international infrastructure, but outside of the Women’s team which is probably the most popular international sports team in America, it’s now largely ignored. The men’s team hasn’t played in a World Cup since 2014. And they might not again until they host in 2026. And last night they lost to Canada. Canada.

And so the domestic competitions, and their championships, are the sports’ main draw in America. In football, it’s the Super Bowl, in baseball, the World Series. Etc, etc, etc. And every year it’s more or less the same format, with a few minor changes here and there. An extra round, or a best of five series made a best of seven.

Not so in cricket. For a couple reasons. One: the international game rules the roost. it’s the money-maker. Two: 70% of global cricket revenue originates in one country, India. The former means holding as many international tournaments as possible, in order to generate as much money as possible for the national cricket councils (which should, rightfully, be used to grow the game domestically, but rarely is that done). And the latter means that India, who makes millions (billions?) on its unilateral tours (like, spending six weeks in South Africa as they are now) **edit: it’s the other way around** would really prefer fewer big international tournaments, as it means fewer tours, and less money.

Phew, right?

This creates a difficult balancing act: keep India happy, and keep all the other countries happy. Which is what gives us what we have now: an ever changing, ever fluid, series of international tournaments. World Cups, World Championships, Champions Trophies and on and on. Up until 2007, there was an international tournament every year. But the international cycle that stated in 2015 — cricket’s international calendar runs on eight year cycles — and runs through 2022 has two years where there is not. India is fine with this. Other countries are not. And so we hit an impasse. And the outcome will probably be a watered down six week tournament in Dubai where the sole purpose will be to print money.

This, more than I think just about anything, is cricket’s biggest issue: it’s utter inability to maintain a consistent international playoff structure. I say international but it’s a problem at the domestic level too. Everything is constantly changing, the goalposts are always being moved, and fans are left bewildered, even the most seasoned ones, who get the double whammy of bewilderment and disillusionment. And that’s not even taking into account the new fans, who are left wondering just what is going to come next in the game that they just decided to check out.

In gridiron football, there’s the Super Bowl. Full stop. And it works. Cricket has gone too far down the river to re-create an event like that — and considering cricket is a global sport it’s really not even possible — but the system they have now is untenable. (Though that’s true with most things in cricket, but that’s a blog for a different day.)

It’s the push pull of money versus tradition, India versus the rest of the world, that might in the end ruin in the game. Until then, all we can do is keep an eye on the international calendar, and do our best to keep track as to what’s coming next. Personally, my suggestion for new cricket fans, especially those in America, would be to avoid everything but the 50 Over and T20 World Cups, and do all you can to follow a domestic first class league. Those change, too, of course, thanks to the above push-pulls, but they are closer to what cricket was 100 years ago then anything else. And therefore might — just might — be the cricket we all come to rely on for the next 100 years.

Optimistic? Sure. But occasionally my glass is half full when it comes to the future of this great game. Follow America’s lead, bring the games back home, away from the international spotlight, and allow domestic leagues to thrive.

A tree falls in Guyana

My local baseball outfit the Minnesota Twins are in the playoffs. But probably not for long. The Yankees are rolling over them downhill and are up 2-0 in the best of five series outscoring the Twins 18-6 along the way. Yankee Stadium has hosted the first two games and we are all a little hopeful that the Twins can pull one back tomorrow night on their homefield and at least keep things interesting for a few more days.

I didn’t watch a single day of the India-South Africa Test. The match times all happened while I slept, and in the mornings I was busy and would forget to check the scores and I just saw the final tally and that India had more or less wiped the floor with South Africa on their own patch **edit, on India’s home patch**, despite some valiant first innings batting from the hosts.

This morning I watched Arsenal beat Bournemouth 1-0 in London. They were able to hang on after a very early goal gave them the lead. Bournemouth looked bored for the first hour so, but they turned it on late and I more than half expected them to at least draw level but Arsenal’s shaky defense saw it through to the end. Three points, safely banked, on to the international break.

Right now I am on the porch and watching the Caribbean Premier League. St. Kitts versus Trinidad in an eliminator in front of a mostly empty but still somehow festive atmosphere in Providence, Guyana. I have always found it odd that cricket is played at this high of a level in South America. The other bit of trivia is that it’s the only English speaking nation in South America. I didn’t think there were any, but there you go.

I mention all of this because it’s funny how sport just runs in the background of our lives. I didn’t watch a single inning of the first Twins playoff game as I don’t get the channel on Hulu. I listened on the radio until they went too far behind. I watched only an inning or two of the second game. I had plans. Lenny Holley at the Walker Art Center. The majority of the game happened while I was having a glass of wine at Esker Grove before the show. As mentioned, I didn’t watch a single delivery of the India vs South Africa. But it still happened, running behind the scenes as slept fitfully, dreaming, waking to morning dark. I watched the Arsenal first half. But then breakfast was ready so I turned it off and ate and had coffee and cleaned up the kitchen and then turned the game back on in the 75th minute to watch Arsenal hang on just. At noon today I have a yoga class and then lunch and then a walk on this beautiful fall day, so I will mist the majority of the second innings of the CPL match currently streaming on the tab just to the left of this one.

There’s of course the old adage about trees falling in woods and does it make a sound if no one is there to hear it? You know, the kind of stuff that blows the minds of 12 year olds. And there’s also Schrödinger’s cat, which is more of thought experiment on paradoxes but still maybe more fitting here. If I don’t watch the games, do they still happen? Of course they do. Does the fact that I either watch or not affect the outcome? Of course not. I mean. Our actions and our movements and our decisions create ripples all over the world, but turning off Arsenal at half time didn’t stop Bournemouth from drawing level or Arsenal from making it safe.

But still. They run in the background. These games. And if we don’t watch, they more or less are not happening, at least not as far as we are concerned. And we are the people who follow these sports, what about the people who don’t? All of these games happening behind the scenes and billions of people are just living their lives, scarcely the slightest bit aware of their existence. You know, like Hobbits. Or whatever. And that is just sport. All over the world, all the time, life is happening, huge swaths of it, and most of it flies under most of our radars. Not, for the most part, really even existing.

Today there is a cricket match on the continent of South America, in a stadium over looking the Demerara river, which flows into the Atlantic ocean, just a few hundred meters away. St Kitts and Nevis are 54-3 after 10 overs. There is an American playing. Ali Khan. He was born in Pakistan in a city called Attock, not far from the Afghanistan frontier. He’s taken a wicket in three overs bowled, and allowed just nine runs. And that’s just one small story of the game. There’s a dozen more just like it. Maybe five dozen. Maybe an infinite number. All of it happening. Really happening. Making those ripples around the world, even though only a relative handful of people know of its existence. And it’s just one cricket game, with infinite stories, while other infinite stories are taking place the world over. In football matches. War zones. Hospitals. The rise and fall of the human drama, all of it. Happening. Whether we watch or not. Billions of lives, living, of which we are just a drop in the sea, dipping our toes into other seas, trying to find significance in an insignificant and vast ocean of infinite ripples in all directions.

Cricket teaches us a lot, if we let it. Patience, nuance. But more than anything it teaches us that the world is very large, impossibly large. And that life is long, impossibly long at times. Today there is a cricket match in Guyana. And within those three hours that the game is taking place, the entire world will change. And change again. The same world that doesn’t even know that it’s happening.

Test 4, Day 5

Summer’s over.

In the end, it just wasn’t enough. Australia were too good, and as the Cricinfo commentator astutely pointed out, you always felt like England had lost one wicket more than they needed to see out the day.

And that’s the Ashes. Sure, there’s still the 5th test, and the chance for England to level the series and save a little face, but the teeth will be out of the game. Australia will rest players, especially those who played both the World Cup and all four Tests. And hopefully for England’s sake they give a couple other guys a chance, as the autopsy on the Test team begins now.

The ECB has prioritized white ball cricket for four years now. And the result is what you saw today in Manchester: a batting lineup that just isn’t good enough. One can of course point to the loss of Jimmy Anderson — losing their best bowler and forcing them to play the game one man down — but he’s just one man, and he’s not a batsmen. For me, England bowled pretty well throughout the series. And if not for Steve Smith, they might have restricted some of those big Aussie totals.

Speaking of: Smith is surely Man of the Series. Rarely do you see one person dominate three out of four Tests. But that’s exactly what he did. It was a joy to watch. He is a talent of the highest order. And a Test batsmen of the highest order. Patient, calm, yet also aggressive, violent. A champion. One who bats when his country needs him most. In the three Tests that he played in, Australia scored a total of 1,858 runs. Smith scored 672 of them. More than a third of the team total. Remarkable.

Are the results different if Smith sits and Anderson plays? Maybe. Almost definitely.

But there’s no changing things now. It’s all done and dusted. Australia home and hosed. Just a few more days cricket and then that big boat home where they will await Pakistan in November.

England, for their part, head to New Zealand in October for five T20s and two Tests. Those Tests are not under the World Test Championship umbrella, and so the popular notion is that they will rest their busiest players. Which means we’ll won’t be able to see if any major adjustments have been made until they play South Africa on Boxing Day.  That should be a fun series either way.

Now summer is over. Winter looms large. Soon it will be dark at dinner time and I’ll be watching Pakistan play Australia as a sharp north wind rattles my storm windows. The soundtrack for this summer has been city white noise through the open windows of my porch. The sunlight angled and dappled and low. But in the winter it will be plows out on the main road outside my window. The radiators ticking. And I will keep warm watching the shirtsleeves and green grass at the Sydney Cricket ground.

Cricket is relentless. It just keeps happening. Summer is over, sure, but it also never ends.

On to the next one then.

See ya there.

Test 4, Day 4: Bat all day

Bat all day.

That’s what England needs to do. And they have eight wickets to do it.

There’s really nothing I love more in a Test match then when a team is tasked with batting all day, and somehow they manage to pull it off.

All day. From 11 in the morning until the early evening. Just keep batting. Stay alive. That’s all you need to do. This isn’t about winning. This is about survival.

And I identify with that. Especially now. That’s life, for lots of people, including me: bat all day. Don’t worry about scoring runs, just get through to stumps. You don’t need a miracle, or to hit a double century, just block, just parry, just deflect, just defend; see out the overs, and get back into the clubhouse.

It’s harder than it sounds. For England it’s almost impossible, having already lost Root and Burns. But it always seems impossible for me too. And so tomorrow I will be rooting for England. I know I will probably wake up at 6:30 a.m. central US time — just before lunch in Manchester — and England will already be three or four or five down, but I will still be there in their corner tomorrow. I cheer for survival, for getting through the day, and that’s all England needs to do: survive, get through. Live to fight.

And I hope they do. I hope they are down to single digit deliveries remaining late in the day, hanging on by two wickets, or even one, Sunday afternoon just before twilight, and they find a way to hang on. And we all go to the Oval next week with the Ashes still in play. It’s the theater of sport at its zenith.

Bat all day. Just get through, You don’t have to win. You just have to make it through. Gracefully, not so gracefully, just to get the other side.

Bat all day.

Bat all day.

It’s what I say to myself every morning as I am lying in bad watching as the black sky turns to gray.

Bat all day. Earn the draw. Survive. Get through.

Cricket, more than any other sport, mirrors our every day.

Until tomorrow.

 

20 years on

**I occasionally use this space to write about stuff that isn’t cricket, feel free to ignore.**

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20 years ago next month. October 1999. Upper Michigan.

The Becker cottages. Two miles down Dukes Road from the tiny village of Moran, an hour north of the bridge. Down a narrow lane with forest on the right and cabins and lake on the left. Two cottages halfway down the lane. A red garage abutting the road. The cottages blue and near the lake. Small. Three rooms and a porch each, mirroring each other. A rocky shoreline leftover from a concrete boardwalk that existed when logging money made the lake a destination. All that money left in the 60s. Now it’s fishermen and middle class families and a choppy lake.

We were up there to hunt. My brother, my two uncles, and my older uncle’s two sons. We would walk through the woods for hours with cans of beer and loaded shotguns and look for birds with the dogs. Never seeing a single one. All the shooting we would do would be at our empty beer cans. I had been coming up to the cottages since I was tiny. But those trips were always during high summer. The lake warm and hot dogs over an open fire and mosquitos like clouds of smoke and s’mores and falling asleep with the windows open, the sound of the waves hitting the rocks lulling you to sleep.

But October was different. The sky was heavy with gray cloud, reflecting in the lake, taking away its blue, leaving it brown and dark. It would rain and the winds would whip  straight through you. Your hands raw on your gun. Thankful for your long underwear. The cabins warmed at night with space heaters and wool blankets.

The third afternoon it was too wet too hunt. It had rained all night with more in the forecast. And the wind was heavy out of the north. We would hang around the cottages with beer instead. And later head into town for more beer and to watch baseball and have dinner. It sounded, to me, far better than spending the afternoon with damp feet in the damp woods.

My older uncle had purchased kayaks earlier that fall. And on a whim my younger cousin and my younger uncle took them out of the garage and out onto the the lake. The shallows calm despite the wind. Whitecaps out past the drop off. They went out 50 yards. Then 100. My older uncle was worried. Out on the lake nearing the drop off in upper Michigan in October. The lake would be frozen over in a few short weeks. Rolling one of those kayaks would mean disaster. The cold lake would suck the life right out of you. But cockiness ruled the day. “We’re going to the dam, meet us there,” my cousin yelled to us back on the shoreline.

We got in a car and took it up the lane to the overgrown two track that weaved and bobbed through to the dam on the far side of the lake. It was a 30 minute drive. Potholed and mud stained. Watching for trappers coming out of the woods. We pulled up to the dam at the mouth of the Carp River where it emptied into the lake. It was flat and empty and there were cold damp fire pits and ancient beer cans. We walked to the edge overlooking the lake and there were my cousin and uncle, paddling up through the quiet waters in the shelter of the bay. We met them on the shoreline.

My younger cousin and my older cousin’s lifelong rivalry inspired my older cousin to want to kayak back from the dam to the cottages, despite my older uncle’s protests. And I was drafted to go a long with him. My brother couldn’t believe it. I never did anything like that. I always took the safe route. But there I was, in a kayak, my older cousin to my left, on the lake in October under a gray sky.

We go out into the lake and the wind picked up and with it came the chop. I had never been in a kayak before. The wind and the current pushed us off course, causing us to constantly re-correct, slowing us down. It was hard work. We were in the middle of the lake. Shore was 100s of yards off. Fighting the wind and the current, those two ancient enemies. The water was cold. In the spray from my cousin’s paddle I could feel just how cold it was. Fear crept in. We were working too hard. It was too difficult to stay on course. I didn’t have a life vest on. I wondered if I could swim to shore if I rolled the kayak. Or if I would freeze to death before reaching safety. My life felt on the edge. My hands were raw with cold and fear, numb against the paddle, catching crabs in the waves, slowing me down.

Home was still so far off. I thought about suggesting to my cousin that we head to the closest shore, to our right, thick with birch and pine, and find our way home via land. But I kept my mouth shut. My cousin was older and braver and would never let his younger brother best him at anything. He kept checking his watch, hoping we would beat their time across. I kept quiet. Kept paddling.

Then the cottages with their familiar sky blue paint, became visible. Two dots in the distance. We paddled toward them. The current becoming friendlier. It was going to be okay. And I thought to myself: what a thing I have done. What an accomplishment. I paddled across a freezing lake in upper Michigan in October. Effort and danger and overcoming. Things are going to be different for me now, I thought. I am going to be better. Everything is going to be better. I am going to figure it all out. I was a college drop out living in a filthy studio apartment overlooking an interstate and answering phones at a financial firm to pay the bills and buy beer. But now, things were going to be different. I had proven to myself that I could do better than I had.

We passed the drop off and moved into calmer waters. At a sandbar you could see the lakebed. My cousin hit the shore first, pulling his kayak up the narrow rocky boat landing in front of the cottages. He jumped out and grabbed the nose of my kayak and pulled me onto shore. My legs were aching. I couldn’t stand up. He hoisted me up and out of the boat by the armpits. He shook my hand. We were buoyant. We had done it. Beaten the wild. Things were going to be different.

Two weeks later I went to a Halloween party in uptown Minneapolis that I wasn’t supposed to go to. I was in line for the bathroom. A woman came out with a blue wig and leather pants and a mesh shirt. “Did you wash your hands?” I asked. Later she would give me her phone number written in marker on a hair ribbon. Our first date would be two days later.

And then things did get better. Things were different. It was years before I linked the two events. The kayak, the Halloween party. But I had been right. I had paddled across a lake and then met someone who made it better, less lonely, easier. It took me years to realize it because that’s how life changes. Slowly. Over time. Like a river eroding away its banks. It wasn’t a lightning bolt of change and better, which is what I was looking for, it was quieting down, realizing what’s important, finding joy in the small things. So often we mistakenly give ourselves all the credit for the changes in our lives, but more often than not it’s not us, it’s the kindness of those around us. That’s what that kayak across that lake gave me: someone who was kind to me. I had proven something to myself, and given myself the confidence to talk to the pretty girl in the blue wig at the party and allow her to make it all better.

Years later I would be back in a kayak on the same lake. But it would be high summer, and the kayaks the open kind for kids on beaches. My wife and I would take them out just past the drop off and play in the waves, our old dog watching impatiently from the shore. The sun warm. The water warm. The sky blue forever. Life can change so quickly. You meet someone and the world starts to spin in a different way. But somehow you don’t even notice. Even though you had just kayaked across a lake in October in upper Michigan and told yourself things were going to be different. We don’t see the change. We don’t see the good. We don’t link the kayak to the Halloween party until it’s far, far too late.