I’m sitting in the gym, writing to the rat-a-tat-tat percussion of dribbling and squeaky shoes on the gym floor. My daughter’s basketball team is practicing, which for eight-year-olds involves as much bouncing on toes and giggling as passing and shooting. I have plenty of time to people watch.
My attention wanders to a slightly older girl on the next court. She’s at that awkward tween age: arms and legs growing too fast, complexion spotty, hair overdue for a haircut. I’ve seen her before: when her teammates arrive, she will sit on the bleachers, unsure where she fits in. She could be me as a sixth grader.
Right now, her dad is practicing with her, giving her a few pointers on how to shoot the ball. “Aim for the box on the backboard,” he says, demonstrating. He’s not being Tiger Dad or Helicopter Parent; he’s encouraging and kind.
I want to tell her that she’s lucky. Pay attention to your dad, I imagine telling her. He’s showing you how to shoot the ball, but he’s also saying that you’re important to him. That he cares enough to spend time with you, pay attention to you, and he’s showing you how a real man treats a lady. Long after you forget your cool teammates, long after you forget this particular game and practice, you’ll remember how Dad showed you love.
I wander to the concession stand. There’s a guy standing in line, waiting to place his order. His nose is permanently smushed to one side; he hangs his head. When we make eye contact, he looks away, as if embarrassed. I wonder if there’s a connection between his nose and his downward gaze. And because I’m a novelist and can’t help it, I come up with scenarios of what his life is like. Maybe there’s a girl he really likes, but he’s scared to ask her out because she’s completely gorgeous and completely out of his league. Or so he thinks.
Ask her out anyway, I imagine saying. You’ve got a 50/50 chance of going out if you ask, but a 100% chance of not going out if you don’t.
Now I realize what I’m doing. I’m saying these things, not because this young girl and teen boy need to hear them, but because I need to remind myself:
You’re blessed if someone genuinely loves you, not if you wear cool clothes and have a perfect body and make effortless small talk.
You take a risk in loving another person, but love, true love, is worth that risk.
You may feel awkward and insignificant, but you’re worth knowing. You are significant.