It’s a Love-Hate-Soccer Relationship
I love my granddad Ted. He hates soccer. I love him despite his irrational hatred for the game, and I say irrational mostly because his reasons aren’t based on any sort of sound logic. Nor does it tolerate any sound logic.
“Soccer, give me a break,” he often sneers, “bunch of sissies diving and acting like a bunch of girls.”
But, I reply for the fifty-seventh time– like a Shakespearean play minus the wit and charm, the sequence has been played out over and over— the flopping is just as bad in basketball, a sport you do like. In fact, I continue, the consequence of a foul that results from a flop is much greater in basketball than in soccer.
“No, no, no,” he retorts, “those soccer players are a bunch of girls, and you know what, the game itself is boring as hell. ‘Yippie, the score was one to zero, what an exciting game, guys.’ God, who even buys that crap. They’re even lucky if anyone scores.”
I try to bring up the fact that he has completely ignored the counterargument I had made in regards to flopping, but he has moved on – in other words, he’s decided to not recognize anything I’ve said. So I move on to the next point, and try to tell him that the drama and the action lies in the beauty of getting that score, that goal, by putting the ball in the net. Besides, I remind him, he’s never even watched a soccer game.
“Doesn’t matter. I don’t need to. It’s boring as hell.”
Well, doesn’t that kind of undermine your entire argument if you’ve never watched it?
“Why would I want to? The fans are nuts. They kill each other at these games. There was that one referee in Brazil, who was drawn and quartered by an angry mob of fans.”
The West End
Saturday marked the beginning of the 2013-2014 English Premier League season, and I woke myself up at 6:45 in the morning in order to watch Liverpool play the inaugural game of the season against Stoke City. It was a fantastic game, with Daniel Sturridge finding the net in the thirty-seventh minute with a powerful kick from twenty-two yards out. If Asmir Begovic’s goal heroics and the slew of missed chances by both sides weren’t enough to dial up ones heart rates several notches, the brilliant initial save by Simon Mignolet against a penalty kick towards the end and the save against a rebound immediately afterwards were enough to make anyone jump out of their seats with excitement.
Or, as my granddad called it, “One to zero. Bo-ring.”
It was impossible to bring him to understand something I like, so we decided we’d do something that he likes: bird watching.
We drove down from our hotel room near downtown Galveston to the West End, which, as you may have guessed, is the at west end of the Galveston Island. An estuarial marsh, the West End is home to life forms both visible and invisible to the naked eye. The migrant birds that were perched atop oil barrels and rocks as well as the ones scurrying along the sand all paid little attention to us and more on their next meal. Dragonflies hovered all around us, playfully encircling our car as if they were teasing us for our lack of ability to fly through the air joyfully like they could. Fish jumped out of the marsh, adding their own bit of music with the splashes they created to the orchestra of the summer breeze, singing birds, chirping bugs, and the bristling bushes that was playing. It was right around five o’clock when we got to the West End, and the angle of the sun, like an artist with a colorful palette does to his artwork, infused even more life and hue into the already lively marsh.
During this entire time, my granddad was pointing out and naming with ease all the birds and other wildlife we were coming across. When you’re one of the best bird watchers and wildlife photographers in the country like he is, this is all second nature. He’d bring my attention to the left, where the scuttling Least Sandpipers were poking their beaks into the wet sand, probing for invertebrates to eat. He’d identify the Black Skimmers to the right, with their vibrant black and red beaks, flying along the water looking for a little seafood dinner.
“And there,” he pointed out the window, “that small bird there with the black ring around its neck is a Piping Plover. It’s an endangered species.”
With my untrained eyes, I couldn’t even see the black ring around its neck until I strained my eyes and my granddad drove the Jeep close enough for me to notice it. It was astonishing how one could be surrounded by so much wildlife and not know anything about all that was there and happening.
Ted snapped up photos of everything, not in the dawdling manner often seen in amateur photographers or with the tepidness of the young pelican we had seen earlier, but with the precision, alertness, and an eye for details that real professionals train for and are gifted with. I had gone on multiple trips with Ted all over the country and the world, and I had watched him work before, but this was the first time I had fully realized how unbelievably qualified he was for his job. Watching him take beautiful pictures were of itself something of a beauty, something to be admired and to be awed by. If he didn’t like the angle the bird was facing, he would make birdcalls to get its attention. In the moment it turned, his finger would press the shutter-release button multiple times, like how those western cowboys in Hollywood films fire away on their Colt Peace Makers at their target.
After a good hour, hour and half, of photography and guided tour by my granddad, he turned the Jeep around and we began heading back to our lodging.
Someone’s Hobby Is Someone Else’s Profession
I have no real interest in photography. I took some photos while I was in Europe, and I use Snapchat from time to time, but that’s about the only time the camera on my phone and I spend any time together. My interests lie in reading, in writing, and in sports, and if someone were to come up to me to talk about, say, sculpture, I would listen for five minutes and then my mind would start to slowly wander off. In a slightly similar sense, even though I’ve been around my granddad Ted, the quality and topic of his work weren’t fully absorbed by me. My recognition of him had generally been as Ted Eubanks the Granddad rather than Ted Eubanks the Photographer. His importance to me as my grandfather has far outweighed my interest in his art, and until his mastery of his work had unfolded in front of me for the hundredth time at the West End did I finally find this new appreciation for his passion and his craft.
Isn’t that a textbook example of self-absorption? Here was a first-class photographer and bird watcher whose craftsmanship eluded my tiny world of what was to be admired until just recently simply because my interest didn’t align with his. To some, photography’s a hobby, but to others it’s their profession. To shrug off what others do just because I wouldn’t do it is ignorant at best, self-centered at worst. Something was to be learned here, and I just couldn’t place my finger quite on it. Maybe, just maybe, this kind of understanding and appreciation dawns on one and spreads to others like a wildfire. Contagious in a positive sense, you know? Perhaps it was very much possible for my granddad to understand the beauty of soccer, in its intricacies, in the art of scoring, and the sublimity of its unifying spirit. With this new hope, I tackled him on the topic of soccer once again with all the optimism in the world—
“Hey Grandpa, would you ever watch a soccer game?”
He glanced over at me, raised his eyebrows, and gave me the same answer he had always given me and probably will always give me:
Right then, something that Albert Einstein had said about insanity crossed my mind.