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On The Ball

There was one problem: I’m scared of THE BALL. You know, the ball

"I hurt my finger playing basketball last night,” I told my husband.

“Ouch, are you okay?” he asked.

“I’m amazing,” I answered, grinning stupidly. “It just hurts a little when I bend it.”

He was trying to figure out why I looked so happy about it. I was also trying to figure out why flexing that fourth little finger over the next day or two gave me a tiny stab of pain — and also a jolt of exhilaration.

About a year and a half ago, a friend mentioned that she played basketball with a group of other frum women in the neighborhood. The idea appealed to me. I like exercise, and I thought it would be a nice social opportunity, a chance to see people in a more relaxed environment where no one really cares what you’re wearing and everyone is focused on the ridiculously unimportant goal of getting the ball in the basket.

I’ve never been the most athletic sort and hadn’t played in years. But I had hazy memories of shooting baskets on the black asphalt driveway outside my house as a kid, so I convinced myself that I must have been a decent player at some point.

There was one problem: I’m scared of THE BALL. You know, the ball. The one the girls playing machanayim held over their heads, with that glint in their eyes. The one that comes hurtling at you like some kind of atomic missile. The one that makes you want to put your hands over your face and run because you know that if it hits you, not only are you out of the game, you might also lose a tooth or glasses’ lens.

Despite my ball phobia, I decided to give it a try. Hopefully, motherhood and the passage of time had taken the edge off those super-killer machanayim-turned-basketball players. Together with an assorted group of other mommies, the first night found me on the rooftop of one of our local schools, each of us looking as tired as can be expected at 9 p.m. But an amazing thing happens when you put a group of women on a basketball court, even at that time of night. Everyone laughs, sweats, runs, and has a great time. I was hooked.

I tried to join once a week, and slowly got better at the game. I’m certainly not the best, not even close, but I make my share of baskets. It’s also been a lot of fun getting tips and training from my eight- and eleven-year-old sons, as they watch me practice in our backyard and kindly point out everything I’m doing wrong.

Still, while I enjoyed playing, I always held myself back just a bit. I didn’t want to get hurt. Somewhere deep inside, I was still scared of THE BALL. So I played, but kept a slight distance, didn’t push myself quite as hard as I could, because it just wasn’t worth it. The really serious players boasted frequent injuries — a bent finger, a bump on the forehead after being whammed in the face, a twisted ankle. Not for me, no thanks. I ran, but not too fast, pushed, but not too hard. It was only a game after all.

Until this past week. We were only three against four, and I didn’t have a choice but to run really fast and play really hard. And after a year and a half of playing, I finally played hard enough to actually hurt my finger. The ball hit my finger and bent it backward. It hurt badly for a minute and then started to ease up.

“I’m okay,” I told everyone. “It doesn’t even hurt anymore.”

“Oh, it will hurt tomorrow,” one of the really good players told me.

It felt like an initiation. After a year and a half of playing, I’d finally played hard enough to actually hurt my finger. And I’m okay. I got hurt, but I’m fine.

Every time I flex my finger I feel the thrill of having faced a fear, looked it square in the eye, and having said, “I can do this anyway.”

And I believe that next time I get back on the court, I won’t be scared anymore. After all, it’s just a ball.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 748)

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