Free style geometry or the happiness of soccer

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If death catches me on the soccer field, people can say that I died happy. I am fascinated with this sport, and I always lose myself in this activity–I become one with the happening, those people running geometrically but freely with a ball between two goals. I just got home from one game, and I barely breathe. I had taken an almost two months break from it-various things kept me away from the pitch–and, at my age, such break is felt in every cell of my body after a game. Still, the beauty of soccer–really, football for me–is bewildering.

It may well be that, beyond the pleasure of participating into an activity, what fascinates me is the free-style geometrical beauty of the sport. In soccer, everything is about triangles–I really wonder how come the sport seems to have been invented by the English and not by the Ancient Greeks or the Egyptians, the masters of geometry. 11 people–or 6, 7, or 8 in our old-boy games–move permanently (or to their abilities) to form triangles. Even if someone dribbles with the ball, he does it for nothing unless he is connected, at least potentially, with two other players from his team, in an imaginary triangle that, in its turn, is attached to some other triangles. After all, in a full team of 11 players, I can form 45 triangles at the same time (I let the mathematically inclined readers check my calculations). Can you imagine having 45 triangles in one’s mind while the points of these triangles are always in movement? And the beauty of it is that the 45 triangles themselves develop at every moment, because the players move, elongating or shortening the sides of the triangle. If one could always be aware of one’s triangles, one would truly be a genius on the field. And perhaps the best players of the world are so because of their capacities to form several free-style triangles at the same time in their minds.

Soccer is a game of constellations–it may be the reason why I feel I am in heaven when I play it. And if you think that the opposing team forms its own constellations, every player being at the same time part of 45 triangles (45 constellations), soccer becomes the world itself.  A geometrical heaven of free-constellations-triangles.

A story about soccer, forgiveness, and responsibility




Some years ago, I coached a varsity soccer team. We actually got to the final, and on that last day everyone showed up to the field. All of the guys were quite pumped up and ready to play. I was excited too. And I wanted to win. I had 22 players on that team. Only 16 played that day.

A couple of years after this event, I went, as usual, to one of my son’s soccer games. He was 8 years old or so. On that particular day, the coach did not play him at all, and when we got into the car my son started to cry.

It was at that moment that I immediately remembered the morning in Virginia when, instead of paying attention to the souls of those young players who had perhaps one chance in their high school soccer career to play a final (the team was not particularly talented), I wanted to win; I needed that win and I thought I was doing something good.

I turned to my son who was still crying in the car, and I said to him, “Forgive me, your coach did not play you today because of me.” And I told him the story.

Divine justice? No. Did I deserve to suffer through my son? No. Did my son deserve to suffer? No.

Then why did I need to ask for forgiveness?

Perhaps because I contributed to a world in which ugliness was possible. Perhaps because there were times when, instead of acting like a shepherd, I occasioned, voluntarily or involuntarily, suffering and ugliness in it. I participated in and contributed to the world’s ugliness.

On that day, I realized I needed to ask for forgiveness because I perceived the similarity of the situations. But even if I had not harmed those kids by not playing them, I should have still told my son, “forgive me, the coach did not play you because of me.” As I should  say to anyone who suffers, regardless of whether his or her suffering is in direct connection with me: forgive me, I am somehow contributing to it.

After I told him the story, my son asked me among tears: “Why did you have to not play those kids?”

I can offer no answers…

Football, Soccer, and Heraclitus

 

After writing about experiencing reality through art, I talked to a friend of mine about common emotions. She thought that it was not important how I made sense intellectually of an emotion, but rather that through my questioning I sent this emotion her way, making her present in the moment, experiencing that which I experienced. “It is more than a madeleine,” she said. I answered saying something along these lines: perhaps what was there gave birth in me to an emotion; in fact, it somehow brought to surface that with which I was already pregnant; her witnessing to this birth occasioned her own giving birth to that with which she was already pregnant. Being there (in this town at that hour of the morning) was not required for this; the only thing that was required was presence, genuine presence, which connects one with oneself, for in oneself one already has the beauty of the entire world. I wrote more about this in Pregnant with the Beautiful.

My friend and I continued to discuss whether we needed a common language in order to have thiscommon” experience. In a sense, I think we do not. In another sense, we do. And I think Heraclitus has already told us about this.

In B107, he says,  κακοὶμάρτυρες ἀνθρώποισιν ὀφθαλμοὶ καὶ ὦτα βαρβάρους ψυχὰς ἐχόντων: poor witnesses for people are the eyes and ears of those who have barbarian souls. I will not proceed to an exhaustive analysis of the paragraph, but I will say a few things that have to do with soccer and football.

B107 says something about the fact that experience does not inform us; it must be something beyond that, a deep structure of the world—let’s call this structure logos, since we discuss Heraclitus, but I would name it Beauty—which speaks to us by means of all the things we experience with our senses. People with barbarian souls (Martha Nussbaum says that Heraclitus means here non-speakers of Greek), although they see and hear, do not understand this deep structure; there is something that these souls lack, perhaps some training, and that causes them to have private understandings. What they perceive are private things, the happenings in the world. They are like children who do not understand the jokes of their parents even if they understand the phrases. Barbarous souls perceive phrases (the events they experience), but only in a private manner, without understanding the meaning.

Consider two people, John and Peter, watching a football game together. John was brought up in the US, and so he grew up playing and watching football. He knows the rules of the game and judges each play according to these laws. Peter just arrived in the US from Europe. His whole life he played and watched what he has also called football—John calls this game soccer. For Peter, it is his first time watching a “football” game. He sees the same game John sees, but the events on the screen do not make sense to him. The moving of the ball does not seem to have a purpose. Peter’s untrained psychē (soul) makes his eyes and ears poor witnesses. He does not react to John’s moments of joy, nor to his despairs. He is absent, although his body is present (those who know Heraclitus will recognize the allusions to other fragments). John explains to Peter the rules, and little by little he begins to make sense of what he sees on the field. Of course, he still does not understand everything, and many of the players’ decisions do not make sense, although he has listened to John’s explanation. But John’s speech itself has not yet sunk in. He heard John, but he has not heard yet the rule of the game. In other words, he has not listened to the deep structure of the game, to its logos, to its beauty. It may be that, little by little, after experiencing several games, Peter begins to understand what these different utterings (the games) express—the rule of the game. At the end, he succeeds in distinguishing each play according to its nature (fragment B1, of course) precisely because they are what they are according to the rule of the game.

 

Heraclitus’ logos is certainly much more than the rules of a game. But for him, a barbarian soul is one that cannot connect with this logos that it should find within. Because of this inability, a barbarian soul perceives particular events and interprets them in a particular fashion, as if it had a private understanding. Such a thing takes place when there is no connection between this soul and the logos. But only a soul which has connection with the logos can read each event according to its nature. There is just one step from this yet unqualified connection between psychē and logos to the idea that the forms must be present within psychē in order for there to be genuine understanding. And maybe just another one to saying that people do not need a common language in order to communicate to one another, even if they still need a common Language: Beauty.