This afternoon, I had the honor and (generally speaking) pleasure of emceeing the 2015-16 Arizona Hockey Union end of season Awards Ceremony. I performed in a similar capacity last season, and it went over pretty well. It seems that I actually do a pretty good job at public speaking. Who knew?
Despite everything I might have uttered at some point in the past six years about my personal disapproval of something or some way in which AHU does things, there is no doubt that it is one of the warmest groups of people I have ever had the pleasure to know and work with. As I stood in front of a packed auditorium at Mesquite High School, I felt at home. Not just because I usually feel at home in front of a microphone, but because as I looked out at the crowd–players, siblings of players, parents, coaches–I felt safe. I felt like the overwhelming majority of these people would give the shirt off their back for me, both out of appreciation for things I might have done–or might do in the future–for them and their children, and just because they’re that kind of people. I don’t think it’s possible to walk into AZ Ice Gilbert and not have at least half a dozen people say hello, ask how I’m doing, or–in the wake of Micah’s passing–ask if there’s anything they can do for me individually or my family as a whole.
I’ve talked a lot over the past several years about the idea of hockey family. Sure, you have teammates, you have fellow debtors known as hockey parents, coaches, and extended player families that are “around,” but they are just a acquaintances until and unless they become family. I’m not sure how you actually go about becoming family–it just happens with the right group of people. The discussions at the rink become more than just talking about a certain play, or goal, or drill during practice–they become intimate. The people you’re talking to have lives that matter to you…and your life matters to them. Your kid has a bad game? It’s not “Your kid had a bad game!” It’s “Hey, is everything okay with Micah?” “Tell Micah not to worry–it’s just a game.” “Don’t worry about the game. So, what do you guys have going on this weekend? Want to go grab a bite after the kids get out of the locker room?” Hockey family is about friends that go beyond the families of your kid’s teammates. Your kid may go play at a different organization, at a different level, or maybe stop playing all together–but you’re still friends, and you still care about each other. You still talk to each other. You may even go out of your way to watch their kid play a game, or they’ll come to watch yours–not because their kid is on the ice, or even cares about the team you’re playing, it’s because supporting each other is what family does.
Family certainly doesn’t have to always agree. Family members frequently have different viewpoints, different experiences, and even sometimes different values. But when it comes to caring about each other, none of that matters. I’ve been lucky on most of Micah’s teams to develop my hockey family with certain players, parents and their families. And there have been a couple very special teams along the way.
So, looking out at the crowd, I saw an incredible extended family. Managers and parents that I have gotten to know over the years. Kids that have walked up to me at the rink to say hello. People that I know truly care about me, care about my family. People that make me want to continue working with the hockey community despite Micah’s passing. People that need me, and people that I find that I need in my life.
As I announced names and read end of season summaries, I ran across references to Micah in other teams’ summaries. I’d already reviewed these summaries in preparing for this afternoon–but the gravity of even a small reference to “#37” did not really hit me until I was reading it in front of the crowd, my extended hockey family. By the time I got to my summary for Micah’s team, and my very brief, one-sentence mention of Micah’s passing, I was completely overwhelmed. I had to stop. I tried to collect myself and continue, but I could only get out maybe one word. I felt the pain of his loss. I was standing in front of hundreds of people, but could only see that Micah was missing. I could feel three hundred people reaching out with their hearts…but I could also feel the emptiness of missing one.
A strange thing happened at that moment. I started to feel a massive tingling sensation all over my body. At first, I wondered if this meant I was about to pass out. I’ve been around 45 years, and I can only think of one other time I’ve ever really passed out (and that was from excessive coughing while I was sitting at a table, so I guess I basically just slumped down at the table), and I do not remember the tingling sensation. The other odd thing was that I did not seem to be losing any feeling–in fact I felt hyper-aware of my surroundings.
It’s fair to say that I’ve never been a big believer in supernatural phenomena. I hear stories about people that believe their loved ones have come back to visit them. People that believe their loved ones haunt their houses. People who see signs of the influence of those who have passed. I’ve always kind of taken the approach of saying, “Hey, cool for you, but I don’t really believe in that stuff.” I don’t know what came over me this afternoon. Maybe it was my body preparing to faint. Maybe it was a combination of my emotional condition and the respiratory infection that I can’t seem to kick. But maybe–just maybe–it was Micah telling me something. Perhaps he was telling me he was proud of me, or that he missed me too and wanted to remind me that he was still there in his own way. I don’t know what happened…probably never truly will. But keeping an open mind, I’m going to consider that a very special moment.
I finished up the team summaries and moved on to the individual awards. Again, I’d known for a couple days that Micah’s coach decided to give him the team’s Most Valuable Player award. However, when the time came to read his name aloud–again I froze. For years, we had attended ceremonies like this and wondered if Micah would get an award. For years there was no award. Now, after his passing, Micah wins the MVP award.
After all the awards were given out, I was told there was one more that one of our executive board members was going to present. She took the mic and announced that the Arizona Hockey Union was proud to recognize a very special individual as the Outstanding Volunteer. That individual was me. I stood next to her at the microphone with a blank, weepy almost blank stare. It was all too much for me.
The ceremony ended, and the couple remaining families from Micah’s team joined our coach, myself and Avi and Cynthia for a bite. After a couple hours, I bid farewell to the coach and families. I know I will likely see them again before too long–they are part of my hockey family.
What does this all mean? It means that I had a very long, emotionally draining day. I may have felt my son’s touch today–no, for now, I’m going to assume that I did feel his touch. It was as real as the grief I felt when I went into his room this evening to add the final trophy to his collection. I told him how proud I was of him for finally earning a season MVP trophy. I talked a little to him about the irony of the timing of its arrival. I told him again how much I love him and miss him. And I do.