Another Sunday afternoon in the park. Tiny soccer players and their thirty-something parents bloom in today's sunshine. When I watch them, I feel a bit like I'm in a benign version of Hitchcock's "Rear Window." There's no real continuity to this afternoon but there are sights. No sounds of course, so this is a bit like a silent film, a tableau of Sunday afternoons all across America.
- Japanese cherry trees, redbud and tulip Magnolias bloom and their petals fly about in the sustained twenty-mile an hour wind. The trees move a little too. Large pink azalea blooms twitter and little bands of daffodils stand straighter in the wind.
- Orange, twist-spring goals wait on the sides of the small field and wind gusts move the stockpile of different-colored balls around.
- The teams come down the field. Boys and girls contain their extreme "tininess" inside miniature soccer uniforms. One crew wears red and the other's colors are black and yellow. Their uniforms are more like pods or stuffed-squash blossoms -- too big and all encompassing. Their little shapes seem to move in slow motion while their over-sized clothes don't really move. These kids are maybe five or six years old.
- Their parent "coaches" are studies unto themselves. One stocky man only walks backwards on the field and keeps bending the bill on his ball cap. One younger man passes time balancing or spinning balls on his fingers and occasionally dropping a ball onto his foot to bounce in a dazzling display of "coaches' credentials."
- Parents set up their own sites - Dick's must have had a huge stock of folding camp chairs in all colors. You know, the kind with attached cargo pockets and a case for the folded-up chair?
- So after "Run, Stop, "Goal!!" for about 30 minutes, the kids' attention wanes in the cold wind.
- A few kids who were too old for this session play a strange game of volley/dodge ball nearby.
- Two women in sweatsuits circle the whole park with large signs either protesting or promoting something. They continue their animated conversation behind their signs, unnoticed.
- A few moms show up late with plates of cookies.
- Both teams line up to "slap hands" in a very formal line down center field.
- Then it's cookie time while parents clean up.
- Those chairs go back inside the storage containers and fathers sling them over their shoulders like arrow quivers.
- Mothers grab hands of the mini-athletes.
- The procession leaves as it came.
- Rinse, repeat every Sunday until time for the next ritual in the lives of these families.
Do these rituals mean anything in the larger picture of our culture? Of course, they do. This little event is a rite of passage where the whole grows so much larger than the parts. All these little rituals create a mosaic of meaning in the pliable development of the kids. What it all means won't show up on the evening news shows because this is the antidote for those things that will.
I write this a few days later from memory. The trees are in full leaf now and I'm a bit sad that Sunday afternoons in the park will be invisible from my front window.