Last week, I laced up my bowling shoes for the first time in two and a half years.
I hesitated a moment before selecting the ball – could I throw a 14-pounder?
Or would I drop it like a dumbbell I’d never used?
Then I spent the night laughing, chatting, hugging (with just the slightest nervousness) and not just throwing…
…but having a ball.
Why bowling ?
And why now?
To answer in a way befitting the game, let me break it down in 10 frames:
There’s gotta be more to life:
I suspect my return to my job as a high school counselor had something to do with returning to the alley. To me, a bowling league helps broaden life beyond “work, church, home – rinse, repeat.”
Good to have a goal:
I joked that, in memory of Queen Elizabeth’s passing, I’d have been satisfied with a 96. Fortunately, while my scores were 10-15 points below my March 2020 average, I didn’t feel like I’d completely forgotten how to bowl.
Time to take reasonable risks:
The lanes closed in spring 2020, with good reason. For months after my COVID-19 vaccinations and subsequent boosters, I questioned when I’d feel comfortable with heightened exposure and risk. After 18 months with students – and returning to Mass at church from the confines of my living room – I realized the lanes were next.
It’s activity that I like:
I’m not much of an athlete. Although I’ve worked out much more in the past year and a half, I remain likelier to be a spectator than participant on a basketball court, football field or baseball diamond. But the lower-key stakes of league bowling suit me just fine.
The mental as well as physical challenge:
Bowling isn’t just about being able to release a ball in a certain way, at a certain speed, or with a certain aim. It’s about psyching yourself up and not out – not allowing a spare to paralyze you when you go to build on it, or coming back from a gutter ball and not allowing it to kill your mood.
Love it or hate it, the pumped-in music revs you up and is often a topic of discussion. I once complained to the management when their satellite radio played the unedited version of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” while our LGBTQ+ league was midway into our evening. (Not everyone agreed with me, which was fine. I needed to make my distaste clear.)
So much to take in: Not just the music but the lights (especially when “disco nights” bring floor-level lighting and a strobe effect), the smells (and, if you dare, the tastes) from the snack bar, the laughter (and occasional curse when a split or gutter ball results). It’s like a carnival or the state fair but in a weekly, condensed form.
Scoresheets and averages help you see not just how your team is doing in the league, but also how you are progressing through the season. It’s a way to measure progress, but not so high-stakes that you feel anything of life consequence is at stake.
A bridge to the past:
It’s not unusual for me to remember:
• My dad’s arm around mine showing me how to lift and release the ball.
• My best friends in high school, laughing as we misfired into the gutter on more than one occasion.
• The bowling class I took as the required P.E. elective in college.
… And the night league of teams across departments from the afternoon paper where I worked in South Bend, Indiana, in the late ’80s and ’90s.
Nothing broke down divisions of class, education, background, job like uniting to win a series…
…or even better, a season.
And most important:
My teammates are great folks. When we’re on, our evenings resemble not so much the PBA as The View.
Everything – from our work woes to our love lives to the craziest dealings of the day – becomes fodder for conversation.
It’s not unusual for one of us to tell another, “You’re up,” so immersed are we in our chat that we have to remind ourselves… oh yeah, there’s a game to play.
I almost always come home with food for thought (much easier to digest, as I fall asleep near midnight, than anything from the snack bar).
I hope you have something that brings you similar joy. And if the pandemic has forced it to cease?
I hope you, too, will find a time for yourself when you’re ready to give it another try.
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