Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Black and white and gray all over.

I know, that "allegedly updated daily" is becoming "allegedly updated almost daily."

But once again, I have an excuse.

I'm good at excuses, if you're wondering, because I'm always late. Someday (stop me if I told this one before), I'll die and there will be a rabbi standing in front of an empty coffin looking at his watch, going "Where is he?"

Anyway, I took a long weekend this past weekend to hang with my buddy Ed.

Among other politically incorrect misadventures, we watched Wrestlemania.

Now, I'll freely admit I'm no longer much of a wrestling fan, more interested in playing the yearly "SmackDown" video game than watching the show itself.

But it's become something of a yearly tradition (read: exercise in nostalgia).

I first started watching wrestling when I was in elementary school and "All-American Wrestling" was on USA, one of the new networks on my parents' new cable TV.

And one of the things I remember is that I was too young to know about things like steroids and "sports entertainment." To me, as a kid, wrestling was legitimate sport, full of heroes and villains, or as they call them now, faces and heels.

See, I believed. I believed you could grow up and be a wrestler, the same way you could grow up and play for the Raiders. You wrestled to the best of your ability and you could be a champion.

So I was naive. I was also 8.

The thing I find myself thinking is, I've never quite shaken that fantasy, that some things in life could be so simple, so clear cut. It's funny, if there's one thing wrestling is not, it's clear-cut and simple - I'm a Bret "Hitman" Hart fan from way back, and anyone who knows stories like the Canadian screw job and the tragic death of his brother Owen knows how far from clear-cut and simple wrestling can get.

But the thing is, that's life. Life isn't simple. Life isn't clear-cut. Is it wrong to wish, sometimes, that it were?

Every little kid who plays with Star Wars figures and GI Joes wants to be a hero (except the budding psychopaths, they want to be villains). But life isn't full of heroes. Life isn't full of grand victories and epic tales. Life is full of little choices, that sometimes lead to little wins, and sometimes lead to big losses.

Somehow, things were simpler then. The good guys won, and the bad guys lost - unless they cheated. The world was fair.

I'll always love wrestling, because there will always be that part of me (please God) that never quite stops being a little kid, that never quite stops believing. Sometimes it gets buried so far beneath the stress and heartache that life can bring that I forget it's there. But then something comes along like Wrestlemania and it all comes rushing back. That dream. Seeing the Hall of Fame ceremony, where Hulk Hogan, greatest of champions, was inducted, brought back memories of a time when he was the greatest of heroes - the good guy of good guys. Sure, the teenager and collegian in me enjoyed the NWO years, when the hero wore black and betrayed his principles, but by then I knew it was all a story, all a grand drama in the name of entertainment. And while I can appreciate a grand drama with the best of them, there's something to be said for NOT knowing how the world works.

That kind of innocent can believe. And sometimes I know, in the dark of night, that I'm not an innocent, that I don't believe, that I can't no matter how much I want to. And it hurts.

I often say I wish life were like street hockey. I grew up playing the game with my friends in middle school and high school. I was a skinny kid, but my friends said I was pound-for-pound the hardest hitter. I played dirty, I played to agitate, I fought, I checked, I cross-checked.

And it was simple.

You kept score, and at the end of the game you won or lost. Would that life were so easy.

Believe me, there have been times in my life when I wish I could throw down my stick, drop my gloves and just pound the hell out of someone, then get a five-minute break from life. Then do it again.

I'm not a complete sociopath. Plenty of 'em deserved to get smacked. Well, at least two.

But that's not how life works, and all the therapy and pharmaceuticals in the world won't change that.

I'm an adult. I have to follow the rules. A cross check is 2 minutes in street hockey - and five years behind bars in the real world.

Life was simpler once. I remember that. And I know I wasn't always happy then, but time does heal a lot of wounds, even as it opens new ones. And the freshest wounds hurt most.

It's easy to talk about words like honor and decency and trust and faith. It's harder to believe in them. And harder still to live up to them. We're not cardboard heroes. We don't have a script that tells us who's going to win and lose. All we have is the chance to play the game - a game with no scoreboard to tell us at a glance if we're winning or losing. The question is, can a child's unshakeable faith that the good guys always win be reconciled with an adult's experience that says the good guys don't always do good deeds, and don't always get good results. And most certainly, the good guys don't always win.

I've always fancied myself a good guy. And I've learned those truths the hard way. I haven't always done good deeds. I've failed at things that at the time mattered more than life itself. I've let people down. I've sinned. I've disappointed.

But I've succeeded, too. Just enough that I keep getting back up off the hockey court, dusting myself off, and hurling myself back into the fray. I've got a hard-hitting reputation to maintain. And a dream that someday, somehow, I'll win this game of life.

I dream that could happen. I wish things really were black and white, but I usually just find myself fumbling to find a place amid the shades of gray. There's no scoreboard in the sky, at least none that I can see, to measure. If God is keeping score, he hasn't seen fit to share.

I wish he would. I always played my best when I knew where I stood, up or down. But life is not that easy.

So all I can do is lower my shoulder, keep my stick and my hopes high, and play hard until the final gun.

World Wrestling Entertainment
Bret "Hitman" Hart
Hulk Hogan, Hall of Famer
Street hockey, NHL Kids style

And now to sleep, perchance to dream.