Husband, father, grandfather, our guest poster talks about his experience skating, its relationship with his life, and why, despite his many obligations---he continues to skate.When I was a kid, my family moved around a lot. Then I joined the Navy and continued moving around a lot, so I’ve become pretty good at leaving. I have stood in many places—schools, homes, neighborhoods, workplaces—knowing that I’d likely never be back. And it doesn’t really affect me. It’s a rather practical matter: when it’s Time to Go, you just go. The same with people, even. I’m not a cold or distant person; but even back before the internet erased the permanency of ‘goodbye,’ it wasn’t a big deal.
So, in November 2014, I was rather unprepared for the weight of feeling that bore down on me as I stood in the Manitowoc County Ice Center. It was Time to Go; but for some reason, this was different. Here was an unfamiliar pang, and I didn’t understand or like it.
After the Navy, I had managed to settle somewhere for seventeen entire years. But, the plant where I had built my career had shut down and I was now going to relocate seven states away. I viewed the move as nothing more than a series of tasks. The list of places I’d leave was just data. Until right then, that is. At that time, I did most of my skating in Green Bay; but it was at this rink, at the tender young age of *ahem* thirty, where I first put on a pair of skates. I then shambled and wobbled my way out there to join the ranks of the wall-huggers, and to marvel at the easy confidence of those around me.
I was going to miss that place, and it hurt. Why? Well, I had done much there. I’d done new things I hadn’t thought possible. I invested effort and time and it paid off in skill (a little, at least). I made friends and managed conflict there. BUT: I’ve done these things before in places I’ve left without a second thought. What was the difference here?
It’s taken a while to sort that out, but I think I have: It is choice. When you’re a kid, you don’t have a choice about where you are. And for me, joining the Navy was a choice made by my financial position. Then, when I got out, where I went was a factor of (a) my training and (b) who was hiring. And outside of the major relocations, obligation was the main driver of where I went on a daily basis. But the rink is different. It is a place I go for no other reason than I want to be there. And skating is a thing I do for no other reason than I want to do it.
I’ve wondered if it is selfish—to spend time, money, and effort on something that benefits only me. I’ve decided that it is; and that it’s okay. It makes me happy; and no one suffers. Figuring out what is so different about a rink, the choice, has helped on and off the ice. While I’m on, the skating doesn’t have to go well for me enjoy it. Knowing and appreciating why I’m there (just because I want to be) brightens the tone regardless. When I’m off-ice, doing whatever I have to do, for whomever I have to do it, I know that soon I’ll be on it again. And there I can work—just work, without weight of obligation, where the effort will yield benefit regardless of the results.
I’ve recognized that in this world of duty, having a place to go, just because you want to be there, is priceless.
I didn’t come up with that back then. I just stood there, confused by what I felt. The horn blew, and Public Skate was done. A quick glance around at the topography of a beginning skater’s ice: Over there’s where the Goalie’s half-circle endured so many misshapen attempts at a 3-turn, as I tried to sort out what “twisting your shoulders against your hips” was supposed to mean. There’s where I split my chin open on a failed loop jump landing (6 stitches!). Here’s the corner where I first landed a flip (and checked the landing so triumphantly that I cruised straight into the wall behind me).
As the graceful, the powerful, and the wall-huggers made their way to the benches, I grabbed my water bottle, spun the top off, and pushed out to center ice. I T-stopped in the circle, scooped up the snow, and put it in my bottle. Sort of a ‘taking it with me’ gesture, I suppose. It was Time to Go, and so I went. I got off that ice for the last time the same way I got on it the first: Tentative, shaky, and somewhat bewildered. There would be others, but I would miss this place.