This week, I turn 40 years old.
As many (many) blog posts and articles discuss, turning forty remains symbolic; that there is, perhaps, more behind than ahead, that aches and pains are getting just a little more achey and pain-y, and that there is a tendency to be slightly nostalgic and wistful for one’s lost youth. There are times, certainly, when I feel great pangs of regret for roads not taken, lessons not learned, and skills not acquired. As Jesse, one of the protagonists in Richard Linklater’s excellent Before Midnight, says, “Every year I get a little more humbled by everything I don’t know and will never learn.” Playing a music instrument, understanding structural equation modelling, learning a second language, and hiking from Land’s End to John O Groats all seem irretrievably lost to me. One of the better essays on turning 40, by Troy Patterson at Slate.com, ends with stanza from Donald Justice’s “Men at Forty.” It suggests both the ache of leaving a past behind, as well as a realization of one’s own limitations:
Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.
There is a confidence in middle age, as well as a sadness. There is a sense of inertia, I think, that is both comforting and frightening. You know who you are, what you like, and probably who you want to be with. But, there is that nagging feeling that it is too late for anything new, or find again something once lost.
Turning this back to sport (this is a sport/heritage blog, after all), I realized the other day – looking at my old goaltending equipment when I was cleaning the garage (a metaphor, indeed) – that I’ll likely never play hockey again. Being a hockey goaltender has been a big part of my identity for as long as I can remember; it was my (borrowing from Wang’s 1999 paper) my intrapersonal authenticity. I still identify myself as a goaltender, but it has been six years since I last played and, frankly, the cost – in money and time – is probably not worth it to try and reacquire something of my very modest puck-stopping skills. I will keep my goaltending equipment for now, perhaps as a material reminder, perhaps as something to show my son when he’s old enough (and, perhaps a misguided and vain hope that the equipment would be fabulous artefact for the “early years” wing of the Gregory Ramshaw Museum – opening 2025! 🙂 But, that time and those skills are, for all intents and purposes, gone, and that’s a little difficult to accept.
I’ll also probably never, ever care about sport as much as I once did. This is less about the million dollar athletes, billion dollar sponsorships, concussions, alienated labour, and everything else that comes with it. In a strange way, I can (hypocritically) compartmentalize enjoying sport and being critical of it. But, I guess, sport just doesn’t matter in the way it used to. I have the capacity, I suppose, to know the highs and lows of sport – I’ve seen a lot of it, after all. I have lost two teams I loved to relocation. Most of the teams I support are awful, and I’m much more interested in watching my son navigate his way through his own sporting preferences. Perhaps that is why I enjoy the sport heritage side of things, that there is time and distance and perspective to understand what it is about the sporting past that we care about now and wish to remember. I like to see which sport heritages become prominent, and which fade into the background. I like to see how sport is remembered in the public arena, how it’s used, and for whom. Even my own personal sporting memories have changed, in that I remember less the result and more who I was with.
And, I guess, as I enter the second half of my life, I find I am interested in different things – in sport, and in life – than I once was. I have been exceptionally fortunate to have seen many different places and events thus far. In sport, I’ve seen the Stanley Cup awarded twice, been to the Winter Olympics, played sports on hallowed grounds, met many of my sporting heroes, watched matches in lots of different countries, and played against some remarkable athletes. Those, of course, were not separated from my life experiences either – sport was played out while I loved, lost, felt joy, pain, and anguish. So, what I want as I go forward is something different. I’m less interested in bucket lists as I am making sure that my inertia is occasionally punctured by something new and unexpected; that my nostalgia is tempered by a realization that I am incredibly fortunate in the life that I’ve been given. I mentioned to someone recently that I am sentimental, but not necessarily nostalgic. I don’t want to go back, but I want to look around me. I want to move forward.
I want my work to change in that, I want to know more about sport heritage, research it, and disseminate that research – but, I want to do things that are not related to sport too. I want to travel and see sporting events, but I want to do those with my son and wife, and with my mother and father while I still have them, and with my brother and his family as we all grow old together. I want to try cricket, and maybe run a race (though, I hate running outside), and I want to write a book that isn’t filled with academic citations. I might even want to play hockey again, but as a forward this time! I want my second half to be…not great, because that’s the wrong word…but, perhaps, right. Not correct, mind you, but knowing that I can look back, knowing the regrets and accepting them, knowing the limitations and accepting them, and still being able to say, “yep, that’s what I wanted. That was right.” I want to, as Jonathan Smith says in a rather apt sporting metaphor, “to play the games of the mind and the body and the spirit and to keep playing (because) one day it will all be over.” Because, one day it will all be over, and – for now – I want to get started. So, blow the whistle, drop the puck, kick the ball, and let’s get this half underway.