I had the most marvelous conversation the other evening with our teenage son. Kapena got home from football practice ahead of his dad (who’s coaching the Freshman team and thoroughly beloved by players and coaches and parents alike—but that’s a post for another time) and plunked himself down beside me to review the day. I asked about school and about practice—this is the first week since his summer knee surgery that he has been cleared for practice, and his first game would be this week’s Homecoming game.
Football has been his enduring passion since I met him four years ago, and it’s also his getting-to-college plan, so we consider his surgery-decision this summer to be a brave one. The surgeon told him he could hold off until after his Junior season, play with the pain and do as best he could—or he could take the surgery immediately, most likely missing his entire Junior season. He opted (after conversation with us, but the choice being entirely his own) to undergo the surgery immediately, reasoning that when he IS on the field, he wants to be at his best. And having been warned that he probably wouldn’t play this year, he’s following in his dad’s footsteps (another miraculously-quick healing from knee surgery last winter) and ready to roll much sooner than anyone predicted. He’d get playing time already at Homecoming.
As he analyzed his first week of practice, his worries about the knee balanced against his unexpected accomplishments in recovering, he suddenly hopped topics. Apropos of nothing obvious in the conversation, he told me, “You know, no offense, but” [an introduction guaranteed to be followed by something interesting!] “when I first heard you were being ordained as a minister, I thought you were kinda crazy. I mean, I always hate those Puritan-type people who preach like they’re better than anybody, and that’s how I thought of it. But…”
[I’ll pause here to note that I was not taking notes while he spoke—I was busy listening intently—so this is my best attempt at reconstructing what he actually said to me.]
“I try to pray every night. I don’t always, but I try to. A lot of people make a wish on 11:11, but I try to pray on it. I figure if other people get their wishes, I might get my prayers. But I was driving a year ago and I saw this sign—just a stupid sign, like somebody picked a quote for their reader-board, but it said, ‘Stop praying to God for what you want, and start thanking God for what you have.’ And that really got me. That’s how I’ve been praying ever since—like I’ll thank him for Rachel [the awesome girlfriend], and for playing football, and for you guys being sober and stuff. And then I just… pray for happiness. I guess he knows better than me what that means. And when I run out of things to say, there’s this feeling… Just, that everything is okay. I don’t know where I’d be without that sign—that sign changed everything.”
He looked a little embarrassed, though I assured him that I know that feeling, and that he’s showing wisdom beyond his years in praying for happiness instead of for specific things. He finished the topic with this, all in a rush: “So anyway, I just wanted to say that you weren’t an idiot to become a minister.”
I’m laughing. And I’m honored beyond words that he talks with us.
The next night was Game Night, and the whole ‘ohana went to watch Kapena’s coming-home to his football field. (Elena Grace isn’t a football fan, but she graciously donned a Meridian Warriors sweatshirt and brought the second volume of Eragon to occupy herself.)
The coaches put Kapena in for a short defensive series in the first quarter—just when I’d left to take Elena Grace to the ladies’ room, wouldn’t you know, but Christian recapped: nothing had happened. Keoni came up from the sideline at half-time and expanded on what Christian had seen: Kapena had understandably been ginger about his knee, and hadn’t been his usual Monster-self on the field.
The entire third quarter passed, and Kapena still hadn’t been sent back in. I was watching him on the sideline and could see his frustration with himself in his body language, restless and dejected. And then in the fourth quarter I thought of the previous evening’s conversation with him, and I began to pray. Just go in there and be yourself, grab that joy in playing that has always made this game your first love, and Do what you Do. Coach Dad on the sidelines put his head to Kapena’s helmet, and (he confirmed later) was saying essentially the same things.
A couple plays later, Kapena got sent back in. Seconds later, he was getting up from the ball-carrier’s chest, and the announcer was hollering Kapena Tyler’s name. And on the next play, and on the next, and on the next. That’s our boy: the play-maker, the Defensive Monster who’s in the middle of every play, tearing up the field with pure joy in the game. The team didn’t win… But our boy is back, and he’s had a Home-Coming worthy of the name. Mahalo, Ke Akua!