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All the Good Pilgrims

All the Good Pilgrims

Tales of the Camino de Santiago
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A Soccer Story
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Most of us are not yet over the hill. We see the hill in the distance, but we’re not there yet. We may look old, but some of us don’t play old once the whistle blows. Some of us, like Hans Hart, are tenacious tacklers; some of us, like Fidel Bacelic, can still put the ball in the net from all angles with the deftness of a Thierry Henry. Some of us, like Dave Naphtali, are still remarkably fast and fit. A few are still crazy enough to get into fisticuffs.

If you’re fit in your fifties, it is possible to play at a high calibre, as long as your opponents can’t run one hundred metres in ten seconds. That’s because soccer is a team game that requires wits as much as muscle. We are not particularly gifted, but we are dedicated to our sport. Most importantly, we are playing within a culture that promotes fitness in a temperate climate. As part of the Me Generation, we are baby boomers who refuse to get old. Nearly all of us are sufficiently advanced in our parenting to squeeze adequate leisure time out of our daily lives to avoid a beer gut.

We are lucky enough to play year-round in a place with the highest average life expectancy for males on the planet. British Columbia, Canada, according to a 2006 report, has surpassed Japan in this rating. It’s a good bet, statistically, that I will live at least 79.2 years. Hence we avoid the terms Old-timer or Weekend Warrior. Every week I try to play
better. Every week our team wants to play better. We look forward to our weekly soccer game as much as we did when we were kids. At least we now know what we’ll be missing if we can no longer play.

When you’re young, you never stop and ponder what your life would be like if you couldn’t play football. You take the game for granted, like oxygen or summer holidays. But this is different. This is better. The presence of Death on the sidelines heightens the drama and satisfaction of our encounters with the opposition, and our sense of camaraderie as a team.

When we show up at the pitch, we are glad to see one another and often we shake hands. We joke. We are not only concerned with how well we might perform as individuals; we are also sensitive to the requirements of communalism. Everyone feels the difference. It is a privilege to be able to play.

Your next injury could end your career. For every athlete, it is ever thus, but as a youth you don’t think that way; you barely think at all. You are too busy performing. You are lost in the moment. You don’t see the game as a highlight in a prolonged continuum.

We are old enough to know there are two game clocks going at once. There are the ninety minutes allotted to the match, as calculated by the referee’s wristwatch, and there is another invisible timekeeper, far less predictable than the referee, who likes to blow his whistle on a whim. The drama of waiting for full-time enhances every fresh encounter.

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What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim

What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim

A Midlife Misadventure on Spain's Camino de Santiago de Compostela
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