The Fearless Ones (futbolísticamente hablando)

ImageOur neighborhood is usually quiet on Sunday morning, but this past Sunday it was as solemn and still as a church. As I trotted down the hill to start my run, I could hear the hushed voices of the altar guild, the barmen of Garros Bar, who behind their barricaded doors were cleaning glasses and righting overturned bottles after an insanely prosperous evening. I huffed and puffed up the hill beyond, past houses of Ticos dreaming of Jesus Christ – the Cristo de Río de Janeiro, that is, to whose photo someone added a Costa Rican soccer jersey in an image circulated widely on Facebook the night before. As I settled into the rest of my usual route, I realized that on this Father’s Day, men all over the country were waking up, looking skywards, clasping their hands in prayer, and thanking God for the best gift they could possibly have imagined.

All of this was because on Saturday night, five million Costa Ricans had a religious experience: they watched their National Team defeated Uruguay 3-1 at the World Cup in Brazil. It is difficult to put into words how improbable, how miraculous, how terrific this victory was. “Passion of CHRIST!” said one fan next to me as we watched the game on TV. “Son of a BITCH!” said the others, over and over, astonished beyond any other words as Costa Rica scored goal after goal against the two-time world champion. The suffix “-azo,” which I’d roughly translate as meaning big, giant, tremendous, is often slapped onto words to refer to a historic soccer victory that left a rival spinning, and this one is being called the Uruguayazo. It was one of the biggest days in Costa Rican history, futbolísticamente hablando.

Yes, that’s right – futbolísticamente hablando. In terms of soccer. Socceristically speaking. This is not national slang, of course, but simply one of my favorite phrases in the Spanish language. I was watching a post-game analysis with your father years ago when my ear first caught this phrase, tripping off the tongue of a slick-haired sportscaster. My jaw dropped. I asked, “Did he just say futbolísticamente hablando?”

“Yes, of course,” said your dad. He couldn’t understand why I thought it was so fantastic. I’m not sure I do, either; it’s just such a specific and complicated term, one that captures the intense seriousness of soccer in Latin America and most of the rest of the world. It is also a combination of words I find bewitching and fun to say. If your dad hadn’t had a say, that might very well have been your name: “Futbolísticamentehablando, you clean up your room RIGHT THIS MINUTE!” We can still change it, if you’d like us to.

You had a tough time during the game. Every time the room erupted in screams and shouts, you winced and gazed around in deep concern, running for my legs if you’d been walking around, or squeezing me tight if you’d been on my lap. I’d spring to my feet and bounce you around, talking into your ear and trying to soothe you. Your chin wobbled in a pre-cry, known in Spanish as “making spoons,” but you didn’t wail. At the end of the game, you even applauded, but very slowly and with a look of despair, as if to say: I’ll try to play along, but my heart’s not in it. I don’t understand why everyone behaving this way. I expected more of you people.

Futbolísticamente hablando, you are a little fearful, a little shy, a little uncertain. In every other way, you are fearless. You enter a room as if every thing and every person in it was created for your inspection and enjoyment. You point and announce, grin and touch. You greet every person you come across like an old friend. You shimmy into food courts or restaurants with your hands in the air, yelling a general “TAA ta TAA!”, eliciting squeals of delight from tables of ladies who lunch. And when you’re really rolling, you’ll turn around, throw someone a smile over your shoulder, and give that lucky person a little butt shake.

I love this. I also find it a little intimidating, because I wonder how to protect this happiness and certainty. So much of what parents are supposed to do is not to teach or change, but rather to preserve what is already there. We see the untroubled friendliness of babies and hope that our fearful hearts won’t influence them too much, even as we want them to stay safe and sound. I don’t recommend that you shake your butt at random strangers later in life, but I hope you hold onto the idea that while bad people do exist, a friendly soul and a good conversation can be found in unexpected places. You might not burble in wonderment at the sight of a magazine stand or coffee filter once you’re an adult, but I hope you will retain your belief that you deserve to take pleasure in marvelous things, big and small. Your confidence is breathtaking. I wish I could promise that nothing will ever shake it.

I can’t promise that, of course. You will learn, from life and surely from me, a number of caveats and limits and lessons that suck. For my part, I will probably worry and worry and worry some more; I will cross my fingers that you never develop a penchant for skydiving; if you do, I will one day be the one squeezing you as you reassure me that it will be all right. But I do promise you this. Even as I worry, I will also try to remember the joyous, shimmying baby before me now. Even as I warn, I will do my best to protect the merry spirit of the girl who treated every supermarket and shopping mall as her own personal runway. I will keep in mind that you once walked with the fearless ones, and that I have walked with them, too, for all of us have our moments of freedom and thoughtless bravery. Oftentimes, those are the moments that shape our lives the most.

The fearless ones know what it’s like to do something – not every day, but sometimes in life – that makes no sense other than in their own minds. The fearless ones give up what they know, take the harder path, take the unexpected job. The fearless ones say yes even when yes is risky, or say no even when no is hard. The fearless ones love deeply and recklessly, even though that is terrifying. The fearless ones walk into a room as if they deserve to be there, even if they suspect they might not.

After all, that’s what it takes to stride onto a field before tens of thousands of fans and let the roar of that crowd drown out the chorus of doubt in your head. To play as if you have nothing to lose. To run like the wind because you can. To believe that you deserve to win, and by believing, make it so.


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