Alternative title, “The Ghost of Chris’s Past”
[Part One of a three part series to help me better understand and create community.]
Being social has always been a function of sports. Teammates congregated for practice and games. I wanted to get good at the game much more than I wanted to make friends. The goal was to be better than them. I knew that having people around was contextual; there had to be a reason for them to gather.
First it was softball. Cover center field territory, take your at bat. Singular responsibilities. Then, it was basketball. Five took the floor. What do most people want? To score. Help them do that. Stop your opponent from doing that. Pass, rebound, create turnovers. Set the other four up to get what they want. Easy.
Rugby came next, and on the surface it seemed like the perfect community to get behind. An outcast sport relishing in its pool of traditional sport rejects, it also layered itself atop the choose-for-yourself college life. They were interesting and seemed an awful lot like me. But I think I was looking for people like me. I succumbed.
While playing rugby I knew what it was to feel special for being part of a certain group. It defined rather than clouded my identity. Getting fanatical over certain things is an attempt to go all in on something and test the results. For most it is a part of the living social experience. With it, though, comes the absolute obliteration of being left behind or discarded by a community.
It was somehow worse than being left behind or discarded by a person. It was a group that took a vote and agreed you were out. Turning their back behind your back felt like you got stabbed in the back, multiple times. Though I am well aware that this is emotional interpretation is very likely a very slanted version of the truth, the feelings that bubble up memories have lots of pressure and poignancy behind them — like a fart in a pool that makes everyone leave.
There was a safety and willing vulnerability in those young days, but as I got older and the stakes got higher the social aspect was too social. There were too many opportunities for greatness and being ‘elite’. I did not understand how drinking would make me any better. The potential loss of control seemed like a silly risk to take, especially when compared to the potential reward of a good time. Having fun has never been my strong suit. I can play the part, but I’m always watching the scene and developing an exit strategy.
I suppose my feeling of rugby community wrapped itself into coaching it collegiately. (You give back, right?) In grad school and only a few years out of college myself, I made sure to not the attend the socials. It seemed wrong in every way. Leading them required we be separate entities. One time, as I was about to make my early exit, one player whined, “Coach! You never hang out with us!”, and another chimed in with, “You don’t let us know you.” Replaying this scene in my head reminds me of my very purposeful ghostlike essence — they can get what you have to offer them, but they never get you.
Finding a way to slip away respectfully, and with a touch of grace, and you’ll leave the mark of Casper instead of Beetlejuice.
Ask yourself why one becomes a ghost and you realize somebody died. I suppose this is some level of trauma. I suppose this is some level of ancestral protection and harm. But I cannot yet speak from those points. Only from where I currently sit and can access.
My understanding of community is dependent upon my willingness to make myself a part of it. To go from collection to collective without any of the seedy or inauthentic undercurrents. How you both have something and stay away from it is the ultimate dichotomy – a contradiction of meanings and definitions that subsist as more of a risk-reward analysis. Betrayal leaves a lasting bias.
A ghost’s self-perception is as a living entity without needs. The only conflict they ever face is whether to reveal themselves. When one can live in their own magical worlds and amidst the specialness of their powers, there is no real pull to leave. How fantastic it must be, then, for a person or idea — a curiousity — to coax you out.