“Hey dad, what’s the big T for?” I inquired at full voice upon entering church for a Christmas Eve service.
Church was always tough for me. Even at the age of three I was questioning things. God and I have actually never run into each other there at all. Not to say we haven’t met. My first personal encounter with god was in the stall of a girl’s bathroom at the age of eight.
The town of Pompton Lakes had after-school basketball available for young girls through St. Mary’s Church. I was tall but unenthused and reluctant to join. My family didn’t go to St. Mary’s. Most of the girls playing basketball there attended St. Mary’s Catholic School.
Cynthia persuaded me to sign up one night, as we laid in sleeping bags in her den under a tent of afghans. Her mother was an obese woman with a beautiful face who would insist we say and sing grace at her Saturday morning breakfast table before gorging ourselves on waffles and ice cream. Cynthia herself was not the trimmest eight-year old. I could imagine her mountaining into a mold of her mother. So you can imagine how I might be surprised when Cynthia now spoke of running, dribbling and traveling. Especially after her mother had just served us a heaping platter of jelly doughnuts post dinner. “God wants us to play basketball”, she said, holding a flashlight under her chin.
“Why?” I said.
“The nuns said so,” she answered. I could see there was a bit of jelly on her chin.
Although Cynthia attended St. Mary’s Catholic School, we befriended each other in the Girl Scouts. We bonded and giggled during many troop meetings playing “Telephone”, learning to be exemplary ladies while our troop leader smoked cigarettes on her back porch. I liked Cynthia. So I said, “OK”. The waffles weren’t bad either.
I guess all the girls that went to St. Mary’s school were told by nuns that God wanted them to play basketball, because they floated around the court like dreamy angels with secrets.
This was my first foray into sports and I found, to my own surprise, that I cared very much about winning. I was playing with gusto fueled by Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies that Cynthia’s mom had given us during half time. But somewhere in the third quarter we started to lose. I became edgy and weepy. Thinking on it now, it was probably a sugar crash.
I went to sulk and cry in the girl’s room. I stood at the fountain sink, stepping on the pedal to spray water onto my sweaty arms. In floated a “Celtic.” The competition! She addressed me with a reassuring smile. “Don’t cry,” she said. “You should pray.” She smiled at me with a divine knowingness, re-elastic’d her ponytails and floated towards the door.
“God wants us to play basketball.”
I entered a stall and pulled my “Knicks” shorts down and sat.
As I peed I pondered the advice of my competition. I had never really prayed before. Just “The Lord’s Prayer” and all the Jesus songs Cynthia’s mom would make us sing before waffles. I cleared my throat. It echoed and the fountain sink was still trickling a bit. I closed my eyes. “Dear God… I want to win this game. God, I need to win this game. Please God. Please God, let me win this game. Thank you. I mean, Amen.” I flushed and opened the stall door.
One of my teammates, Marta, was standing there.
“Good. This is what god wants,” she said.
During the next ten minutes while we kicked the other team’s butt, I took full credit. Even though I was on the bench. My conversation with God had saved the day.
God bless basketball.