Sunday, February 12, 2012

Gliding Softly, Softly Gliding

           The slow tight swoosh of the Zamboni brushed across the ice in large sweeping loops as the Bridgeport Sound Tigers prepared to take the home ice on a Friday night against the Springfield Falcons at Webster Bank Arena. An American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL New York Islanders, the Sound Tigers, in second place in their division, were enjoying a successful season.
            While the arena rocked to the rhythms of big time hockey, throughout the night middle school choirs, tee-shirt promotions, and recognitions of hometown heroes returning from the wars peppered the breaks in play. But the action on the ice was as fast paced and rollicking as that of the NHL. This was, after all, minor league hockey, the proving ground of the majors, and one hoped-for call away from playing in New York.
            We sat, my two sons and I, in the second row behind the glass, near the penalty boxes. As the game began, the players glided over the ice with the precision and grace of ballet dancers, arms swaying, skates striding in great sweeping arcs. The lyricism of their moves was contrasted only by the brutality of their contact as they hit the boards, charging and checking, smashing their opponents against the glass with a thrump, the puck caroming away down the ice.
            David turned to me sometime during the first quarter of play. “Liam just said Whitney Houston died,” he told me. I looked over to see Liam tapping away at his smartphone, a lifeline to the world beyond the arena.
            “What happened,” I asked, already knowing the answer.
            “She was found by her bodyguard,” he replied.
            “Too soon for details,” David added. “It’s always like that.”
            Beyond the glass the game continued at its alternating pace of graceful glides shattered by frenetic, raucous collisions, the roar of the crowd surging loudly crunch after crunch, and loudly surging goal upon goal. The Sound Tigers were on their way to a season-high 8-1 trouncing of the Falcons.
            But as the night wore on, I thought of how strikingly similar to the tempo of this game the shifting rhythms of Whitney Houston’s years had been. From “Saving All My Love for You,” when she burst upon the music scene in 1985, to one of the biggest hits of all time, 1992’s “I Will Always Love You,” in her notoriety she had seen it all. During her finest years, the strength and range of her voice, the liquid trills gliding across a note defining it anew, spoke of the promise of much more to come. No one ever before had lifted a melody aloft quite like Whitney. But then came the crashing collapse to the dark depths of her battles with addiction, the ultimate desolation that ensued and the ignominy of her dying, as Whitney’s life had swung from beauty and grace to brutality and anguish, and a gifted voice was silenced.
            I suppose in the end we all know in one way or another, at various times, the paradox of life’s alternating rhythms: in moments of glory sweeping gracefully across the ice only to be checked by the brutal crushing impact of an impediment that sends us reeling, perhaps collapsing in a heap. But most of us, by the grace of God and our own resilience, are blessed to pick ourselves up, right our footing, and skate off gracefully into the next play. Here’s to gliding softly across the ice and averting those crashing blows; here's to Whitney, softly gliding over the notes of the songs she has left us.