Feature image Copyright Molly Priddy
Before I begin this story, I think it’s important that you understand where I stand with sports, especially basketball (I promise this will have something to do with feelings). For starters, I’m 5’10” and the shortest of the five daughters in my family.
It’s natural, then, that I’d be put in tall-people sports, and my mom’s basketball background in Canada (eh?) meant we were headed to the hoops. I played until my sophomore year in high school, when I was finally old enough and brave enough to say, “I hate playing this sport, I find it terribly distressing and not at all fun.” Because that’s the truth – some people are naturals out there on the court, fluid and thinking two steps ahead, whereas I tend to feel like I’m thinking too hard, panicking while I try to figure out where I should be.
My coaches always hammered on the same weakness in my game: I wasn’t strong enough, not making room for myself under the basket, not committing to the goal.
Anyway, after that, I gave up on basketball. It was liberating to not care about it anymore, and I didn’t watch it, college or the pros, unless my friends were playing (I’m a tall person who naturally gravitated to the other tall kids at my college). My life was blissfully sports-free.
Then I met the woman who would become my wife: A 6-foot D-I basketball player, running and gunning on the University of Montana’s Lady Griz multiple-conference-championship-winning team. And wouldn’t you know it, suddenly I became interested in sports again, particularly women’s basketball (so weird, I know!).
Fast-forward a few years after my sudden interest in sports paid off with an amazing girlfriend, and there I was, sitting in the back of a small car stuck in the arena parking lot in Spokane, smack in the middle of March Madness, fuming and trying not to cry.
You see, a basketball team that was playing that night lost their game. It had come down to the wire, and a few tough officiating calls mixed with some lucky shots from the other team made the buzzer-beater go in the favor of the visitors. And no, I didn’t know anything about Gonzaga University women’s basketball beforehand, nor did I attend Gonzaga University, nor did I know anyone on the team.
So why was I having an internal emotional breakdown after their loss?
I’ll tell you: Therapy.
That evening had been a practice run I set for myself to exercise my hoping muscles. For years, I’d dammed myself off from fully hoping for anything, because hope is terrifying.
Hope is light, hope is all that is good, hope is what keeps humans alive when all other circumstances say they should be dead. So why was I so afraid of it, this life-giving feeling?
Because in order to hope or to truly want, you have to be open to vulnerability. Because if what you’re hoping for doesn’t come true, you’re in for disappointment.
That, you might be thinking, is pretty obvious and something we’ve all been doing since we were old enough to understand anticipation. But before I was sitting in the back of that car, before I intentionally set out to hope for something, I’d been in a place so low, so alone, so vulnerable that I couldn’t allow anything else to hurt me. Never again, I said, as I whimpered and used all my strength to keep myself together; no one will ever get the chance to do this to me again, I said as I set out to build an elaborate emotional fortress.
Hope was for suckers, I thought. There’s always another shoe waiting to drop, so why put yourself out there like that? Might as well put a target on your back.
It was a good defense when I formed the fortress, and I needed it for years. I don’t regret building it, because I like being alive. But dismantling it has made me come to terms with everything I’d kept out, and hope was on my list of feelings to tackle.
So I started out small. I’d hope to make the green light ahead. If it worked out, I allowed myself the tiny rush of getting what I’d wanted. If it didn’t, well, I’d have to accept the negative feeling that came with it. Eventually, I moved on to bigger scenarios – hoping my editor would like my writing, hoping my courage would hold long enough to go shopping for pants.
Our friends invited us to Spokane for a weekend of basketball, the northwest bracket of the women’s NCAA Sweet 16. Since my friend and my wife both played basketball in college, I had no qualms going to watch strangers play – it would make two people I care about happy, easily enough.
Then we sat. And I started to pay attention. I really watched, I got invested in the local Gonzaga team; I felt anxiety and euphoria all mixed together for a full 90 minutes while we cheered from the upper decks. I remember thinking how great it felt to be fully open to the good, big feelings this was producing.
Then the game got close. Then the Zags started to lose. I whiplashed to the “ugh” side of the feelings spectrum, anxiety through the roof and sweating through my T-shirt. Then they lost. Just – lost. It was over, and all I was left with was this crushing sense of disappointment.
I liken that phase of my life to having lived in a cave for years, dark and dank but safe, then forcing myself into the sunshine, no umbrella or sunscreen to prevent the slightest sun rays from frying my skin. I had no defenses behind the walls of my fortress, and this disappointment was extremely uncomfortable.
I wanted to throw it, to give it to someone else. I wanted to yell at the referees for some reason, as if that would help. But I made myself sit through it. I had to. That was my only option.
By the time we were able to escape the gridlock of the parking lot, my friends and girlfriend were over the game and already thinking about the fun we were going to have that night. I still fumed, not joining in the conversation, staring out the window, angry and sad.
And then, by the time we hit the freeway, the turmoil in my head had faded, shifting from fire-engine red to a nice burnt orange. It seeped back into the neutrality of yellow then eventually to green as my head calmed, my breathing relaxed, and my heart stopped trying to escape my chest.
I had survived disappointment, a random one I couldn’t fix in any way. I was still there, and no one thought less of me for having been upset. It had been a safe way to test myself and work on my hoping muscles, a way to make myself stronger, to know that if I could survive this level, perhaps I could push myself to more.
It took more time, and therapy, to get where I am today, which, if you’ll bear with me, is an amazing accomplishment. When Clinton lost the election, I felt crushed by what seemed to be a hurricane of fear and hate coursing over America. I was laid completely low, afraid and concerned and hopeless.
I stayed that way for days, weeks even. Then, slowly, I felt the tendrils of hope rising again, hope that I could once again allow myself to believe that at the core of us all are the same desires for respect, acceptance, and community. Those tendrils are growing thick and strong, cracking the concrete I instinctively slathered around my heart, and I’m doing my damnedest not to nip them in the bud.
It’s terrifying, but I’ve come to realize anything that matters will be. I will protect myself, but I won’t deny myself the bittersweet experience of hope. And the next time life throws a curveball – because it always will – I know I can shoulder it.
I’m strong enough now.