Reaching for the Sounds of a Childhood Game

by on September 3, 2009 · 10 comments

in From the Soul, Sports

by Ernie McCray

On July 31st, in an effort to get on with my life after the death of my precious soul mate, I wrote in my journal: “I’m on my way down a long highway, trying to make my way to something faraway called normalcy where I used to live before the tragedy. But I’ll get there. Just you wait and see.”

But, oh, I feel like I’m out in a stormy rain, floating on a tin boat, heading into a swirling and sucking drain. Having Nancy just float away from me like a feather riding a breeze, present one moment, fighting against agonies, then in the next breath gone – well, the sorrow and grief is beyond my belief, having leaped into the depths of my soul like burglars in the night.

But, I know normalcy awaits me. Because lately every time I feel like I’m going down I hear sounds, all around, sounds from another day, the sweet tampy sounds of a basketball bouncing off the ground, sounds as familiar and natural to me as the air I breathe, sounds that have always been there for me when a day needed to be seized.

Oh, there was a time when I would have gone AWOL from my senses if it hadn’t been for the sounds of hoops being played: the bap of the ball banking off the backboard; the whispery swish of the ball hitting nothing but net from beyond the paint; the squeaking of shoes, as a player makes his move on a hardwood floor. As a child trying to comprehend and deal with Jim Crow I would listen for and run to these sounds of a basketball game and take momentary leave of society’s tired old status quo.

To me it was so hard being a Negro that: if it hadn’t been for my buddies and me, back then, talking trash and creating fakes and moves, bouncing that brown round ball until it lost its groove, I might have been on the 10:00 News: “Nine year old boy, morphs into an Incredible Hulk and dropkicks a ton of rednecks to the sun!”

But I survived those days and now I face another day to be won and I’m noticing that I’ve got: breath in my lungs, although its hard to breathe; ideas in my head, although they’re hard to call upon and perceive; pep in my body although, looking at me, it’s hard to believe; tricks up my sleeve…

And, for me, basketball still acts as a metaphor for dealing with adversity. Like a player overcoming a devastating injury, I’m slowly trying to get back in the game, having recently met with some friends of mine around the problem of military recruiters showing up on our high school campuses at lunchtime. They like to tell our children that they’ll help them realize their desires of making a difference in the world. In Afghanistan?
Yeah, I’m just feeling my way back on the scene, easing myself into my old usual routines. I have no finesse, as yet, so I’ve got to hustle and screen out the madness (like the enticement of our youth into war kinds of BS), and get back on defense.

One has to work hard when they’re down so I need to hit the boards and cleanly snatch a rebound (oh, I can feel the rhythm and hear the cheering sounds). And in one motion I’m firing a bullet pass to a teammate heading up court along the sideline and he passes to a teammate who is in the middle of the court just past the half court line and he spots another teammate heading to the basket for a jarring slam dunk. Team work.
Working with others to make a better world is what I was doing up until that overwhelming day: the 22nd of July. The very thought of that day makes me cry and cry and cry.

But tears aside, I know Nancy would want me to, once again, hit my stride. She would want me to keep creating dramatic scenes and prose and poetry with kids and keep helping them visualize and actualize hopes and dreams – just as I used to regularly pull up for a jump shot or sweetly bank a hook shot or finding the open man for an easy shot.

And I will get all the way back out there, baby. I’m reaching for the sounds and I will always hear and feel you, girl.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

annagrace September 3, 2009 at 11:30 pm

Dear Ernie- thank you for this beautiful prose poem. One of the paradoxes arising from the deepest losses we sustain is how much gratitude we are capable of feeling for a piece of memory, a kindness, a moment’s small fragile illumination. I hope you keep on “talking” to us Ernie. We’re listening and ready to reply. A warm embrace.


genie September 4, 2009 at 12:12 am

Ernie, Whenever I see something you post I get excited, because you have that gift of putting my feelings into the words I fail to express. Thank you for your ability to express your vulnerability, it gives me strength. I have zillions of thanks to you, for all you do. But, I think you may understand when I tell you that the first ‘establishment’ school my son went to was John Muir, when it was off 70th st, and then moved to above Linda Vista, and Cramashi was principal, and Kim was his teacher, and the other Ernie was his guitar teacher! And I did fundraisers, and was always hangin’ out, cuz I could! Your grief, I share, for what it’s worth. Thank you brother.


genie September 4, 2009 at 12:27 am

P.S…….46 points! dannnnnnng!


Ernie McCray September 4, 2009 at 8:29 am

Hey, what can I say, I was in the zone as they say. And, thanks for all you had to say about what I have to say. I find myself, at least in this moment, in a playful way. Not a bad way to start the day.


Lane Tobias September 4, 2009 at 9:02 am

really great stuff…you write with such an emphasis on emotion. Thank you.


Dave Gilbert September 4, 2009 at 9:27 am

Thanks Ernie, that was hauntingly beautiful. I too use teamwork as a metaphor except that it’s football.


jon September 4, 2009 at 9:28 am

You rock Ernie. I too am always excited to see one of your gems pop up here. You definitely sound like you’re back in the game!


Ernie McCray September 4, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Hey, thanks to everybody, and to all a goodnight.


PSD September 4, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Great flow, great expression of emotion – great piece, Ernie.


susan orlofsky September 27, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Dear Ernie,
so sorry for your loss . . .
your words touched my heart.
i lost my husband/companero Peter Zelin 10 years ago suddenly
when our son Zak was just 12 . . .
in the face of profound loss i found
time my ally & i hope time will be your ally
and i trust that your beautiful spirit [which i have learned about from reading some of your writing and standing with you on picket lines and at demos] will find the way.
susan orlofsky


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