My room wasn’t cluttered with trophies, ribbons, and medals. My favorite trophy was one that my dad took home after catching a 210-pound Warsaw grouper during a fishing derby in Florida.
I did have a small, unimpressive bug collection pressed in a glass-topped box that looked like a beefy picture frame. The most colorful specimen was a Luna moth that had hatched from a cocoon, which my grandfather had given me. All the adults told me that it was empty, but I knew better.
My mom and I tried to anesthetize the moth, but it didn’t cooperate. The moth shredded its wings pulling away from the pins. I cried afterward, and felt ashamed that I had ruined this beautiful, delicate creature by selfishly wanting to preserve it.
Perhaps sensitive boys weren’t cut out for throwing a Hail Mary in the final seconds of the fourth quarter, or nailing a half-court shot at the buzzer, or hitting a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning. That didn’t stop me from fantasizing about that kind of heroism and glory like any other boy.
My athletic achievements came later, if with no greater frequency, and always occurred in obscure contexts without bleachers, stadium lights, radio broadcasts, fans, beautiful women, or expensive domestic beer.
The first happened during the summer before my junior year of college. I was interning at Hillsboro Church of Christ, the church where my family and I started going when I was fourteen. I went with my former youth ministry, good buddy, and then boss Scott on all the mission trips to North Carolina, Arizona, and Tegucigalpa, Honduras, without having to raise support.
While in Honduras, we somehow got roped into a game of soccer, going under the alias of “football.” I played one season of soccer when I was about nine years old. I am to soccer what President George W. Bush was to public speaking.
I make people cringe.
But I was the youth intern so part of my job was leading the charge. I at least look athletic, and every once in awhile, I’ll make it through an entire sporting event without making any mistakes that hurt my team.
That was always my sporting mantra: Do no harm.
I’d forgotten to pack my “Please don’t pass the ball to me. I’m just here to get in the way” t-shirt, so within a few minutes of the match, I found myself dribbling a soccer ball down a half-sized, enclosed field.
The gringos were playing our new Honduran friends. Something that has since passed out of memory caused me to haul off and kick ball with my right foot.
I’m left-handed and left-footed.
Though I did surprise myself at the solid contact that I’d made with the ball, it was a foolish shot, sure to miss. My aim was off.
I was standing just forward of mid-field, and as the ball sailed through the air, I watched something strange, something miraculous, begin to happen.
The ball’s trajectory began to curl from the right to the left. Despite the distance, the goalie was too slow to react, and the ball sailed into the upper right-hand corner of the goal.
I had scored the first goal, from mid-field, which was impressive even on a half-sized court. I had bent it like Beckham before Beckham became famous for bending it like himself.
Everyone was so stunned that the game just stopped. The Hondurans turned to gawk at me. Their mouths hung open as though Pele had just dropped out of the sky, Pele wearing pink skin.
One of the high school kids on the mission team ran up to congratulate me.
“I didn’t know you were good!” she said.
“I’m not,” I said.
I did nothing of note the rest of the game.
The goal was a complete accident. I panicked and kicked with the wrong foot and was rewarded with a masterful shot. I somehow tapped into pure animal. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.
I doubt anyone else even remembers the game, except the angels in heaven.