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.

World Mental Health Day

It’s World Mental Health Day.

Whatever that means.

Like most of these random days — National Dog Day, Global Best Friends Day, Hug a Sibling Day, or whatever — it feels made up. A meaningless exercise on Twitter where people urge other people to get into therapy and to talk about their struggles with mental health. It all feels vapid, meaningless, self serving. A chance for people who like to hear themselves talk sound smart and full of empathy and, you know, properly woke when it comes to the subject of mental health.

The people whose opinions on mental health struggles that I respect usually take the day off social media platforms. Or if they do post, it’s about the need for resources, not awareness, that we have plenty of awareness. Everyone knows everyone else is struggling, now let’s do something about it, and let’s tell our elected officials to do something about it too (stop laughing). But everyone else posts a picture of a flower with some hackneyed platitude written in calligraphy next to it. You know, the kind where they are too lazy to even use a metaphor. “You are not alone, you really aren’t, for realsies.”

This all sounds so bitter. Because that’s what depression has given me. It has not given more empathy, it has stripped me of empathy. No one could possibly know how terrible this feels, every single day. Only I get what it’s really like to be so sad you can’t lift your arms, or walk down the street without needing to sit down. Only me. Just me. And so I get angry when people I know — either in real life or via social media channels — talk openly about their struggles with mental health. “Fuck that,” I say, “you don’t know what it’s like.” That’s bullshit, of course, but that’s what the disease does. It isolates you, traps you in your own head. Makes you feel more alone than you thought you could ever possibly feel. I read once that depression is a room you build inside yourself that you can never leave. That’s about right. But it’s also a room without windows, closed off to the world. “You are not alone,” the internet says. “No, sorry, I am most unequivocally alone,” I reply.

The only place I really ever talk about it is here, on this blog. I live this sad, silent life. I feel like no one would believe me if I told them how bad it was, and simultaneously I feel like I am annoying the people who do get it when I talk to them about it. Or, in a certain case, my sadness makes them anxious, paranoid, sometimes even a little angry, so I keep it to myself.

So here is where the importance of awareness comes in. It has to be okay to talk about it. And that fact needs to be repeated over and over again. Because loneliness kills people. Which is why I understand that, intellectually, what happens on Twitter on World Mental Health Day is actually important, because it reminds not just those who do not suffer from mental health issues that people — lots of people, maybe most people — are struggling, but it’s also important for people like me, so we know that, yes, we are not alone, no matter what we might think. We are not alone and that’s important, because that means it will get better someday. Out there, right now, on Twitter, there are people posting about how it got better for them. I want to believe them, I really do, but it’s so hard, but still, please, yes, keep repeating it.

Like I wrote a while back, we know that sadness ends, because happiness ended. Nothing lasts forever. Summer will come back.

So in the spirit of the day, I will say to the nine people who might read this: while I don’t yet have an “it gets better” story, I will say out loud once again that I am struggling. Really, really struggling. And it feels like it will never get any better, that I will feel this way forever. There have been so many false dawns, days when I felt okay for a little while, but the struggle always returns. And this silly little cricket blog is the last place I have.

I write a lot about cricket and depression and the intersection of the two here. Probably too much. But indulge me. Last week the proprietor of Different Shades of Green wrote a just lovely piece about Marcus Trescothick, the English batsman, and his retirement from county cricket. Trescothick, of course, was one of the first athletes to admit to his depression, his anxiety, and go public with that as the reason for up and flying home in the middle of a tour of India in 2006, and then doing the same the following year when the England squad were in Australia for the Ashes. He later retired from international cricket, but played county cricket for another decade, up until just this month. In 2009, he released a biography entitled Coming Back to Me, where he talks about how he would be okay playing county cricket because he would know that he was close to home, no matter where he was playing, which allowed his mind to ease.

It’s a beautiful and sad piece, I urge you to read it.

I was thinking about the post — and Trescothick — this morning as I scrolled the Mental Health Day hashtag feed on Twitter, and I realized something: I believe him. For whatever reason, I believe in how dark it must have been for him. I believe him. And Jonathan Trott. And Steve Harmison. And Michael Yardy. And Maninder Singh. And Sarah Taylor. All the cricketers over the years who have pulled out of tours or otherwise gone public with their mental health struggles. Maybe I believe them because they sacrificed so much because of their illnesses. Money, fame. All to get better. It would have to be very, very dark in their heads for them to turn their backs on getting paid to play the game they loved since childhood. It doesn’t matter why, I believe them, these sad, once broken, once brilliant athletes.

Often I muse on whether there is an actual connection between cricket and depression or anxiety. And most people think there is, just because of the nature of the game, and the toll the long tours take on players, but that leaves aside the fans. Is there something about the game that attracts the sad, the disaffected, the struggling? I never quite believed that there was, until this morning, when I realized that maybe the reason I have been writing here so much over the past year, and writing about and being so open about my depression here is because of people like Trescothick. Like Trott. Because they are cricketers who have struggled, and I believe them, and, yes, somehow, someway, they make me feel less alone. 


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.

Finally here is a beautiful day, a superb sun …

It’s fall here now. Here in Minnesota. I am on my porch with long underwear on under my pants and a heavy sweater on over my t-shirt. I have a stocking cap on. But the windows are still open to the chill and the drizzle and the low clouds outside. I will sit out here as deep into autumn as I am able, clinging to whatever bit of fresh air I can grasp before winter sets in and leaves the landscape dark, white, barren, frozen.

In three days cricket’s winter starts with the first test between South Africa and India. The match will be in the city of Visakhapatnam, India. The average high temperature of the city in October is 89.1 degrees Fahrenheit, the average daily humidity is 74%. The record high is 99 degrees Fahrenheit. The Bay of Bengal rests at the stadium’s front door.

Wednesday in Minnesota the high temperature will be 58 degrees. It will be raining. I have a dentist appointment that morning in the city where I lived for 13 years, where my ex-wife still lives. I will bike up the hill from my apartment to Snelling Ave and catch the A Line at St. Clair Ave and take that up to Roseville. I will get my teeth cleaned. And after if the rain has stopped I will bike to the office: down Hamline Ave to Como and then east to downtown St. Paul. It will hurt, being back in that city, it always does. I will keep my gaze south away from the house, doing all that I can to avoid riding past the house, or even on the street up the road from the house, or by the gas station around the corner, or near the coffeeshop up the block. And I won’t take the trail through the woods where we would walk our dog on sunny fall days. I won’t do any of that. Then again, maybe I will.

The Tests between South Africa and India will take place for the most part in the middle of the night on my watch. The openers will trot out just as I am going to sleep, and when I rise in the morning and shower and go to work their day will just be wrapping up. The shadows long on India’s east coast, night coming, as the sun in Minnesota finally finishes charring the other side of the world, and rises over the horizon to bless us with its low-angled autumn warmth. Someone might bat all night in Visakhapatnam while I slept, while half the world slept, a man in white standing up and seeing off ball after ball, just a tiny speck of humanity on this vast globe, in all that heat and all that haze.

I have woken up on many mornings during cricket’s winter to see who had batted all night, while I had slept in the back bedroom of our little house on Oxford St. One sticks out, Alistair Cook against India. 2012. Getting up with the dog and my phone in the December dark. And that feeling of knowing what he had done all night while I slept left me melancholy, small somehow, the size of the world pressing down on my senses. Three years and change later I woke up to a NY Times breaking news alert on my phone: David Bowie was dead. It’s like after that, the world started to tilt when it spun, and trying to breath was like slipping on ice, everything felt askew, like someone in the night had rearranged the furniture not in my house but in how the world was.

I stopped getting up and checking the cricket scores on winter mornings after that. The world drifted in odd ways, I drifted in odd ways. Things fell apart, the centre held but not like it used to. As if Bowie had been propping up the universe, and now there was no one left to bare his load. The things that I used to enjoy disappeared, I disappeared, and now I am here, and here is far removed from before January 2016, far removed from those dark mornings in deep winter in 2012-13, the first winter after we had ran away, and then ran back, and everything was slipping into place, only to be over turned and scattered a few short years later.

On Wednesday morning I will bike through Roseville to the Dentist. 14 hours later openers will trot out into the heat and the haze of a cricket stadium in southeast Asia. A murmur of crowd, the rhythm of bat, ball, run in, boundary, polite applause. I will be asleep for most of it. Sleeping the fitful, restless, interrupted sleep that I have been sleeping for the past almost 17 months. In the morning before dawn I will get up. There won’t be a dog to let out. Instead I will dress and make coffee and watch the sky go from black to gray. And, I think, I will check the cricket score. See what had happened on the other side of the world as I slept. See if anyone batted all night long.

A batter batting all day is one of cricket’s great joys. From the early morning dewy session through to the heat of the afternoon and finally to the twilight of evening. Like Monet’s waterlilies, tracing the sun across the sky, light falling in different ways, all on the same setting. Lilies on a marsh in Monet’s case, a single batter on a field of green on the far side of the world in cricket’s. But batting all night is different. Knowing it happened all while a hemisphere slept in the dark cold of northern winter, the batter pushing the sun across the sky, giving it back to the other side of this giant world for a short time, it’s rays bringing the joyful knowledge that we had made it through another night, as well as a reminder that every night ends, every winter ends, and every sorrow, eventually, ends.


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.**


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.