Saturday, July 5, 2008

Understanding Mats

So, most of us working stiffs have been looking incredulously at each other since the Vancouver Canucks offered Mats Sundin twenty million smackaroos over the next couple of seasons, with no real pressure to win a Cup or anything to complicate the deal. And if we weren't incredulous at the offer itself, we're all pretty flabbergasted that the big bald one left the money on the table because he's just not sure he wants to play anymore. I don't know about you, but I'd dig ditches, stand in a beehive or clean outhouses for twenty million bucks, never mind play a game I love and at which I excel. Obviously, I, like most of you, had a little trouble understanding how that kind of money can mean nothing to someone.

That is, until today. We're finally getting some nice, hot summer weather, so today I packed up the old blanket, cooler and sunscreen and hit the beach. It was great. The sun was warm enough to heat the lake and dry your suit in just a few minutes after a swim. There was just enough of a breeze to keep you from overheating and keep the flies away. Big fluffy white clouds drifted in the azure sky, and the light on the water danced like thousands of stars. Little kids laughed and ran and dug in the sand, and good looking people in bathing suits chatted or read trashy novels. Far out on the lake, sleek canoes slipped along and white sailed flirted with the horizon. Coming home, warm, tired and smelling of coconut, the winter and the expenditure of energy seemed very far away.

I've been in the workforce for fifteen years. I'm tired. Days like this make it hard to think of giving your all to the job, when it's so much more fun to relax and soak up the sun, and you only get three or four weeks a year to feel that free. Today I thought about how much harder it would be to motivate myself for work if I already had enough money to set me up very comfortably for the rest of my life, and if I were just starting a new family. And how tough it would be to decide to devote my mind and body to as difficult an endeavor as playing a year in the National Hockey League at the age of thirty-seven, if I really didn't have to do it anymore.

I think I get Sundin now. He's got money, reputation, a sure place in the Hall of Fame. He's been off work since April, enjoying the good life and healing all the nagging injuries his job inflicts. He's thinking about his wedding coming up, and the summer parties he's having with friends and family. The urgency of making decisions because his livelihood depends on it is past for him.

But you know what happens? In August, the beach isn't quite as novel anymore. The evenings carry a little hint of the coming fall. The metabolism starts to stir again, and the sense of renewal and purpose rises in the veins like sap in the trees. You look around and everyone is heading back to work and school or flying south with a great burst of energy. Then the thought of hitting the ice again crosses your mind. Your feet itch to feel blades under them, and you want the feel of the puck snapping on your stick. You remember how you love the game and you wonder how it would feel to sit by and watch games you know you could be starring in.

Oh yes, I think Mats Sundin will be back. But I also understand why his decision will come later in the summer. I just hope he chooses to skate in blue, blanc et rouge this season...and that patient Bob is waiting when he does.

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