Boston, late evening
I had a bad feeling the moment the email downloaded on my Outlook Express. The sender was my brother, Chris, and the subject line simply read: "Hanging 'em up ..."
I didn't want to open the email, to be perfectly honest. Chris is my younger brother, by 16 months, and we'd just spent a tremendous weekend playing hockey together at Lake Placid. True, our team didn't record a single win (or a single goal, for that matter), but being on the ice with my brother was a real treat for me. I'm one of six siblings, including five boys. Yet, due to myriad circumstances, we didn't get many opportunities to play alongside each other after elementary school, though most of us continued to pursue sports.
Later in life, after my older brother Sean became an accomplished orthopaedic surgeon, our gang of old jocks would joke that our family alone would ensure him a steady practice. And Chris certainly had his share of injuries. He suffered back problems as a kid, and blew up one of his knees playing indoor soccer in college. Recently, there were knee and elbow issues (admittedly, the injury roll-call becomes a blur after a while). But if anyone could overcome an injury, it was Chris. The guy is built like a tank, and (unlike me) has a real focus and commitment to weight-training and stretching routines. During our old-timer hockey weekend, I marveled at his adherence to his pre-game stretching ritual. Me? I pre-medicated with a 800 mg of Ibuprofen and hoped for the best. Chris was one of the best players on our team that weekend (though I'm afraid I'm damning him with faint praise, given our miserable showing), and on the long drive home we talked about getting together to play again soon. Maybe even another tournament. That's why his email took me aback.
Chris was actually writing to a guy who runs a local pick-up skate, and he had blind Cc:'d me on it. The note was brief and to the point: "Several weeks ago in one of our Monday night skates I collided hard with one of my team mates and hurt my left shoulder. The shoulder won't need surgery but I've decided it's time for me to hang up the skates. One too many sports related injuries over the years, I guess." I knew about the shoulder injury, but thought it was, at worst, a minor hindrance. That's either a testament to my brother's toughness, or my own willingness to ignore the severity of any injury. Maybe both. Regardless, I'm hoping this is only a temporary setback (I fired a quick reply, asking: "You sure?"), and not permanent. I can't imagine that Chris has played his last hockey game. Otherwise, I'd have to acknowledge that I might be one step closer to calling it quits.
Which brings me back to Lake Placid. We had two pairs of father-son tandems on our squad, and each had the tournament photographer take a separate photo of them after the team photo was taken. I briefly considered having him snap a photo of Chris and myself, but then thought; "Nah, we'll have plenty more opportunities." Little did I know. These moments are fleeting. That's probably why they're so special to us. Enjoy them.
Muddy Onion 2022
2 weeks ago