Tranquility is a quality which you recognize when it, as we say, is broken. Early morning hockey practices are a test case for this phenomenon.
The Nachmu boys enjoy this one of the two structured extracurricular activities Mrs. Nachmu and I have ordained should be theirs. Unfortunately for us, at their ages (between 7 and 10), the only time the ice is available is between 6:30 am and 9 am on Saturday mornings. We are a late-rising family (no worms for us), so this is excruciating for us all. This morning, especially (as rarely happens), it was so because each of the boys had practice at the same time at two different rinks, which meant that we all had to rouse ourselves and coordinate appropriate departure times in separate cars. We managed with a minimum of tears from Nachmu the Younger.
I reckon, however, that early risers and late risers alike are groggy during the seven o’clock hour, being, as it is, a Saturday morning, with no worm to get for any bird, just the sheer pleasure of midwinter cold entering early into the beds of our needed slumber, done for the children.
(When I complain, my sympathetic wife responds thus: “Whose idea was hockey, dear?” Oh yeah.)
There is normally tranquility in the warm room for over a half hour: after the last teams have departed, after the current teams have taken the ice, and before the next teams begin to arrive, we courageous mothers and fathers have peace. No one dares conversation because it would quickly devolve into a yawning contest.
And so there is tranquility.
I was reading a book about sailing, part fantasy, part vicariousness (sailing the Atlantic has as much joy and agony as enduring the winter in Western New York), which was very easy to do without the distractions of the furnace priming and firing at regular (too frequently) intervals, the noise of schooling, the bustle of meal preparation, and the like, when all of a sudden, television was blaring.
You must understand: the Nachmu house has television, but it is located deep within her bowels, turned on with no regularity. Its function is to watch certain sporting events, and that’s about all. We never watch “television,” much less do we ever have television on in the main living areas of the house. This was an extraordinary experience for me, and the damn thing was directly above my head.
Television was blaring because a younger sibling of one of the players on the ice was there. He had been previously quiet. Who asked for television to begin blaring? His mother? He himself? I do not know; I was in tranquility, so I did not see. Perhaps the man with the remote was feeling kindness, thinking to salve the sharpness of hearing one’s own thoughts. Never mind. All of a sudden, television was blaring, breaking tranquility. It became impossible to read.
Within seconds, I think, a time span measurable in seconds, the little boy was no longer watching TV, but had gone to his second screen, which (and I agree with him) is much more entertaining and intellectually stimulating than the incessant dialogue, music, and sound effects compressed into one insidious stream of noise. Yes, it was the ubiquitous Pants of Square. Again. Tranquility was broken by noise which no one really wanted, so I stood up to watch Nachmu the Elder chase after a frozen rubber puck.
When they put on their gear, especially the helmet, they suddenly grow. Their physical stature assumes that of the chiseled Greek ideal, and they fly from point to point, throwing up into the air ice shavings from the blades strapped to their feet, jostling with each other, hips and shoulders and sticks, to control the puck. They are men, employing the aggressive use of force by means of trained and steely sinews and muscles close-hauled against solid bone. One feels primal reactions: skate faster! Skate harder! More aggressive! Get the puck! Go get it! And this is practice. During games, one no longer feels primal reactions; they are irrepressible, formed into vocables upon the lips, let loose like so many communiques upon Napoleon’s fields. One shouts primal reactions.
Some of us are mortified to hear what we say; others are not so ashamed of basic human motivations. Most of us crack wise to take the edge off the rising anxiety which says that I feel that my man-representation is better/worse than yours.
The practices and games come to an end because ice time has expired, and off they come, these automatons of our desire. When they leave the ice, they begin to shrink. First one takes off his helmet, then another. Soon, all of them are helmetless, flush with cold and exertion, smiling, looking up at the big people, waiting for affirmation (which, I think, comes from love), completely oblivious to the warfare just now waged from mere meters away. They do not know that they are competitors. Well, they know, but they don’t know. How can they? Nachmu the Elder, nearly the tallest on his team, has become diminutive, a ten-year old boy, the apple of his father’s eye, held only a decade ago in my hand.