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If you, like me, are a fan of “American” Football, those words signal the end of the video replay process and a forthcoming decision about what really happened along with the anticipation of what might happen next. At this stage I find myself looking at much of life much the same way…reviewing what just happened, or is still in the process of happening and trying to both understand its meaning and where it might take me. So let’s stay with sports for a bit.
My Dad introduced me to sport when I was young and eager to be interested in everything that he was interested in. For him it was principally baseball and the NY Yankees and I took up both the game and a passionate rooting interest in that team. Those were heady times for Yankee fans as they won the biggest prizes with the games most iconic players, Mantle, Berra, Ford, Howard, Richardson…. Growing up in suburban Long Island NY in the 60’s was a magical time for me…there were dozens of boys in my age range ready and eager to play any kind of ball at any time of day, all living houses away from mine. Practicing for piano lessons never had a chance, nor for the matter did most of my school work. I played Little League and stayed involved as a player through high school but was never really good enough to really be in the center of things. Just the same I loved it.
I remember a moment with my Sicilian Grandfather when I was about 9 and totally engrossed in watching a Yankee game. I was of course riding the emotional roller coaster of leading and losing as the game progressed and my Grandpa was looking at me with a level of curiosity that I never really had experienced with him before. Finally he asked me, ”If they win, do you get money?” “Of course not” was my immediate and incredulous reply! And his retort was “Then why do you care?”. It was not a question that my 9 year old self could really answer and even if I could have, the translation required in broken English and Sicilian dialect would have been an antipasto of meaningless verbiage. But yet now I find myself asking the same question…why do I care?
I guess at the heart of it, watching and rooting is another means of experiencing an emotional journey. Of course, we are not playing the game, but we’re on the same journey in a vicarious extension of what’s really happening. When I was in Law School and we were analyzing Supreme Court decisions about pornography, one of the Justices attempted to describe it as a means of “vicarious titillation”. To which the great social critic Kenneth Tynon replied, “better to be titillated vicariously than never to be titillated at all”. For those billions of us who will never be good enough to play at the highest level it’s our way of still being connected to the experience and finding a way to make it matter. All it requires is our willingness to attach our emotions.
Euro 2020, the football (soccer) tournament that has captivated Europe and is now down to the final two is a great study for me in all of this. How did I attach myself to this journey and why? So let’s start with my European connections…I have owned a small apartment in France for 9 years…In the last World Cup I was unabashedly rooting for Les Bleu to beat Croatia in the Final. But now, I suppose not surprisingly, having lived in Madrid for about 3 years, I adopted Spain as my team. But then came the semi-final match vs Italy. My roots are 100% Italian, both sides, father and mother. I actually now have dual citizenship and an Italian passport as a result. When I watched Italy play in earlier matches, and as you would expect they play with an emotional expressiveness that is, well, operatic, every hand gesture and facial expression was one I had seen expressed and repeated in my own family! I knew these guys! And yet, I was totally committed to España and I rode the emotional roller coaster with them all the way to the bottom of their heartbreaking loss. Why?
In the simplest of terms, while they supplied the drama, I supplied the sense of personal meaning…and here it was about the friends that have welcomed and accepted me in this place I now call home. As a consequence of their embrace, I wanted to be a part of their emotional journey, one that took them all the way to the semi-finals and at the end heartbreak. In the aftermath we have shared texts, tweets and beers moaning about what could have been, and of course, all of it has made me feel more connected to them and to this place. Now that they have been eliminated and their Italian conquerors move on to face England I will, of course, take the opportunity to hoist a new flag and join my fellow Italian Citizens in the 2 hour passion play to come this Sunday. Why? Because staying on the journey, willing to risk disappointment and heartbreak in order to experience exultation and triumph is a worthy bargain…and when you think about, when you’re really living, something that you do every day. Viva Italia!