It’s 150 miles from here to Charlottesville.
I’ve done it often enough to know it takes two hours and 35 minutes to get from my front door to my seat in John Paul Jones Arena. Five hours round-trip, give or take, depending on traffic and how many times I need to stop for coffee.
There are times when it seems longer than that — when we are mired in traffic, when we are racing against the clock to make it into our seats before tip-off, or on the long ride home after a late game on a Monday night.
Don’t worry — I am keenly aware it sounds crazy to have season tickets to a basketball team that plays 150 miles away and adds 3,000 miles to my odometer each year.
It’s more than just the extra 3,000 miles of course. It’s late nights and cranky mornings. It’s actual practices missed and metaphorical balls dropped. It’s the anxiety as we watch and the tears when we lose. It’s more than a time commitment. It’s an emotional one.
Objectively it absolutely sounds crazy.
But it’s more than just a game. It’s more than just a team. It’s more than just a place.
Squeezed into my seat in the rafters of JPJ is where everything is okay for me. For us. It is our time together, uninterrupted by work, by technology, by friends. By life. It is our shared passion.
It’s where their blisters made them special, not left out.
It’s where magic happens and superstition is real.
It’s where we met a special friend who also happens to be a pretty spectacular coach.
It’s where – in one split second before the ball tips – I feel all the feelings all at the exact same moment — hope and fear and love and heartbreak.
And that is my peace. It’s my therapy. It’s my medication.
There is a different kind of peace on the drive home. In the darkened car, eyes half-closed, we talk about what went right and what went wrong. Both in the game and in our day.
Maybe it’s because they are tired, from the late hour or because the adrenaline has finally stopped surging through their veins, or maybe it’s because we all have more courage to speak in the dark, but some of the best conversations we have ever had have been on the long ride home.
After everyone has fallen asleep I listen to the snuffling of noises around me. I feel the hum of the Sequoia’s engine, groaning slightly about being overworked again. I steal glimpses in the rear view mirror of those soft faces illuminated briefly by the headlights of another car on the road and see traces of the babies I held in my arms. I listen to songs that take me to other moments, other decisions, other faces, other feelings. All the things I didn’t think about in those blissful 2 hours inside JPJ.
The next morning, when we are rumpled and cranky and late, I always wonder if if is worth it.
But I know it is.
Because there are nights when we walk in the door at 2 am and my 8 year old, rumpled and disoriented from sleeping in the car, rests his head against mine as I fumble to unlock the front door, and whispers “I know we lost mom. But it was just fun being together.”
Or when my 10 year old, exhausted and teary, extends a hand to a stranger wearing the jersey of the winning team and says “Good game.”
Or when they run into the open arms of Coach Sanchez who is waiting for their hugs.
Or when my 8 year old tells me he’s writing a poem at school about happiness. “We had to say what we thought happiness smelled like. Some people said Christmas and some said the beach. But I said JPJ.”
Or when they reach for my hand in the middle of a game and don’t let go until the buzzer sounds.
And in those moments I know it is worth every mile, every hour, every dollar. I know years from now, my children won’t remember what they got for Christmas, or the grades they made.
But they will remember how to lose graciously.
They will remember that love will break your heart into a million pieces but it will just as surely put it back together again.
They will remember that success cannot be measured in one game. A year cannot be defined by one day. A person cannot be defined by one moment.
They will remember that losing isn’t always a bad thing. That sometimes losing can show you what your weaknesses are so you can fix them. That sometimes losing is the only way to know what really matters to you.
They will smell popcorn and remember the moment before the ball tips – the one where everything is still possible.
They will remember that even when we lose, we survive and advance.
They will remember the long road home.