It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. 

All my life I called bullshit on this line. If you’ve ever had a broken heart, you probably did too. 

But recently, after the final whistle blew on my daughter’s soccer career when her high school team lost at home during the NC Championship Tournament, this line floated up.

From the time she laced up her cleats as a little girl until this last game, I was there. I was there through all the late night practices on the other side of town. I was there for all the trips up and down the east coast in blazing heat and ten degrees. I was there when she scored her first goal. And I was there when she got passed over to move up to a better club team, quit club, and decided to go back two years later only start at the bottom and bust her ass to make it to the elite team last August. 

As she sat on her home turf after being beaten by a lower-seeded team, I watched her cry openly from my regular spot in the bleachers where I saw her team go 55-4-5 in her three years on Varsity. And the next morning when she penned her remarkable farewell to the sport that she grew up in, I was the first person she sent it to. 

Every moment watching your child grow is beautifully heartbreaking. Because every one of those moments is fleeting. And they never repeat. 

I knew this day was coming. Whether it happened leading up to the championship, or a week later after the big game, she was going to stop playing eventually. 

I just didn’t quite prepare for it. 

And now I don’t know what I’m going to do. Except to think back to all those games and practices, all those cuts and bruises, and all those crappy hotel rooms on the road—with the pride in knowing that I was a part of it. I got to watch her put her heart on the line week after week, season after season. 

For my daughter, the recent loss marked the end of a soccer journey that started when she was very young.

For me, it marked the end of an era. A loss indeed. A hole.

There’s a poem by Billy Collins called Forgetfulness that I can never read without weeping. The gist of it is that the older you get, and the more memories you accumulate, memories get left behind. Even now as I write this note, I wonder which memories from this era will disappear. Certainly I can’t recall every game or important moment. 

Memories fade. Children grow up. Life goes on.

It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. 

The other night with my stomach in knots from my place in the bleachers, this line finally made sense—it isn’t about love at all. It’s about feeling. You can choose to go through life building walls around your heart as a way to protect yourself from feeling the inevitable bad that comes along with the good, or you can open yourself up to love–and take all of it. 

I was lucky enough to watch a little girl grow into a woman right before my eyes through a sport I didn’t even understand the first few years. 

Despite everything, I’m grateful. And yes, I’d do it all again. I loved. I lost. Life goes on. I’m confident that the moments yet to come in my life will be just as beautiful, and heartbreaking, as the ones I’ve experienced so far. Because I certainly never predicted this feeling. 

Even when I saw it coming. 

Nothing lasts forever. That’s the beauty. And boy what a beautiful thing it was to watch her play all these years. 

Last fall, during a morning game with her club team somewhere in eastern North Carolina, I wrote the following–

Daughter closes fast

The keeper lunges

Daughter leaps–

two feet off the ground in full gallop

Right leg up

Left back

Defiant fists at the ends of running arms

Head is high and leaning in

Thick ponytail streamed out behind it

Like a chaotic contrail of curls

Then time freezes

As the sun shines an outline on her strong legs

and powerful torso

And there’s a golden glow where the morning sun streams through

her mane—

stretched out behind her in a flaming point

This is the image I want to see

as I think back on this time 

when I’m ninety three. 

***

Agatha attends the University of Tampa this fall as a freshman. The woman’s head coach at Tampa is interested in her playing there, but, by the time they discovered her, they didn’t have any scholarships for 2019. As such, she might walk on. Or not. She didn’t select her college based on soccer. And I’m proud of that. Even when she had plenty of opportunity to play all over the country.

Photos by Bruce Stribling

***

Jim

Religion
Prepare to be Boarded

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.

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