In the neutral zone
At this time of year, we talk a lot about peace on earth. We think we want a utopian state of peaceful bliss. But do we? Or would we become hand-in-the-chin, puddle-of-drool-on-the-desk bored with that?
My son plays hockey, so I spend time in arenas watching teenaged hockey players stickhandle their way up and down the ice. When the opposition team crosses the blue line into my son’s end, my stomach clenches, and I hold my breath. “Get it out. Get it out,” I think. The apprehensive tension doesn’t ease until the puck crosses the line back into the neutral zone. Then, when my son’s team carries the puck into the opposition zone, I sit on the edge of my seat in anticipatory tension, and I hope for a goal. “Shoot,” I say. The tension doesn’t ease until the puck crosses the line back into the neutral zone.
As I ride this hockey mom roller coaster, at the other end of the arena, there is another mother on an opposite roller coaster ride. I want my son to successfully defend against a goal; she wants her son or daughter to defeat mine. I want my son to score a goal; she wants her son or daughter to rob him of that opportunity.
At a recent game, the two teams spent an unusually long time in the neutral zone. Each team tried to connect passes to cross the blue line, but players intercepted or checked the puck every time. Back and forth it went until it became almost like a practice drill. There was no tension. Exasperated, I muttered, “It would be okay with me if something happened.”
As I heard the words come out of my mouth, it occurred to me that they express an opposite emotion to what I think I want. I think I want an existence of blissful, stressfree peace. But do I? Would any of us go to a hockey game where the players did nothing but skate around the neutral zone and pass back and forth?
No. We want tension. We want something to happen.
When we find ourselves in a time of routine stability, we enjoy it for a while. Then we start to pace. We bristle against the lines that contain us. We don’t call it “routine stability,” we call it a “rut.” We want something to happen. So, we cross the blue line into the opposition zone and try to score a goal by doing something outside of the ordinary. “Shoot!” we say. We go on vacation to Maui, or we buy a sweater when it’s not on sale, or we get a pedicure with bright red nail polish.
Sometimes we’re blown out of the neutral zone by the opposition, against our will and when we’re not ready. We find ourselves with a clenched stomach and holding our breath while we recover from illness, mourn a death or look for a new job. “Get it out! Get it out!” we say.
A question for our times then, is:
How on earth can we have peace and still have enough going on to keep us all interested?
Maybe we should take some cues from hockey. International competition like the World Juniors teaches us global lessons.
We watched the games with clenched stomachs on the edges of our seats. We rode up and down on waves of anticipatory and then apprehensive tension. We know we wouldn’t have it any other way.
We saw that jubilation for some means shocked heartbreak for others. We know that we have to make room for both.
And we saw that at the end, no one died, the crowd stood and cheered for the efforts on all sides, and when the national anthem played, there was respect. We know that, at the end, we need respect.