My oldest friend, Dan Currie, describes the history of our friendship as a series of figure eights. Over the years, we swing into and out of each other’s life, a pattern that I hope continues into the next life, even if we come back as squirrels or lab rats. On Friday, Dan shot me an e-mail informing me about a Saturday activity here in New England that he figured would interest me. Like many of our Close Encounters, this one involved the game of rugby. The All Deaf Rugby Football Club would play the Framingham Exiles in Massachusetts. The rugby club I founded during graduate school at Gallaudet College in Washington, DC had lasted a few seasons after my graduation before it went the way of many sports enterprises, so learning that nearly 40 years later, deaf athletes were playing the game in America stopped me in my tracks.
I put a little over 400 miles on the car Saturday, leaving the sanctuary of Maine for the expressways of Boston, and it was worth all the cursing I exchanged with my fellow drivers. Arriving at the Irish Culture Center, I watched a team of rugby players warm up, laugh, bicker, borrow a player because they had traveled a man short, play hard, fall behind big and finish strong, scoring two late tries when many teams would have packed it in. I met fans, many who had never seen rugby, and we chatted, laughed, shared stories, figured out whom we knew in common and finally exchanged names and contact information. Drank a pint at the pub, discussed the match, the refereeing, the inevitable No Shows for a road game, the difficulty of keeping a club together. When I launched into a rant about what clubs need to do to thrive, a player smiled and told me, “You’re preaching to the choir.” As at Blackthorn post-game parties over the last forty-some years, friends, wives, children and grandchildren thronged about the bar. I had never met these people, yet we were not quite strangers. Everything was eerily familiar. Such a day could have happened at a rugby pitch anywhere, but all of these players and fans were part of the deaf community. Is this 1973? Is this Gallaufukindet RFC?
I ended the day, wondering how many of my fellow humans get the chance to discover family members they never knew existed. I thought about Identical Strangers, a nonfiction book about identical twins who learn of their twinship as adults. Each young woman ultimately meets someone who has grown up entirely removed from her yet bears perfectly matching DNA. Of course, they look alike, but they turn out to share interests, tastes, mannerisms galore. I felt something like that yesterday.
People reaching a certain age tend to seek reconnection with faces from their past. I’ve been in that stage for some time now. Yesterday did nothing to lessen that urge in me; it fueled me to find those guys whose young faces and long hair I see in the faded team picture on my wall. But yesterday was about more than nostalgia. I want to follow the adventures of these guys, my very recent acquaintances, on Facebook. I want to cheer them on. I’ve ordered a t-shirt. Already, there’s talk about a reunion. Because we’re not strangers. We’re something much closer. We just didn’t know it until yesterday. I’ve been blessed to do the figure-eight thing with many people who have brought such meaning to my life, and I’m glad that Brian Fitzpatrick, Jeff Malcolm and Mark Hughey—fans, and Terric (or is it Terrific) Stephens, Ben Barnes, Mark Burke, Kyle Larson—players (to name just a few) and deaf referee Richard Knopf don’t mind swinging their way into my life and letting me be part of theirs.