by Phil Callaway
My dream as a kid was to be a hockey player. I couldn’t wait for Saturday evenings. After my bath, I would hurry to the living room, sit down next to the big Philco radio, and listen to hockey night in Canada.
Ah, how I loved the roar of the crowd. The tension of overtime. Players’ names that brought visions of grandeur: Gordie Howe, Frank Mahovolich, Bobby Orr, Phil Callaway. It’s true. I imagined the announcer, his voice rushed with excitement: “It’s Callaway, blazing down the ice…splitting the defense…he shoots…he scores! Oh my, I have not seen anything this exciting since the Allies invaded Normandy!”
Certain that hockey was my calling, I pursued my dream with everything I had. Before long I was playing with real teams in real arenas, with a real helmet to protect my really hard head. Our teams were never very good, but that didn’t lessen my enthusiasm. I couldn’t wait to turn professional so I could fly Mom and Dad to the games. I’d buy them front-row seats right behind the players. They could help the coach make important decisions.
In tenth grade we posted our first winning season. It was a milestone year for me. In fact, something occurred that year that changed my dream for good.
It happened like this.
Late March. The championship game. An event of such magnitude in our small town that a crowd of millions, or at least a few hundred, packed our small arena to watch the stars come out. Peering in nervous anticipation through a crack in the locker room door, I had the distinct feeling that this would be my night. The years of stickhandling were about to pay off. Those who had paid the scalpers twenty-five cents would not be disappointed.
But as the game progressed, my dream began to fade. In fact, as the clock ran down to the final minute, the dream had all the makings of a nightmare. We were behind 3–2 as I climbed over the boards. The final buzzer was about to sound. The fat lady was about to sing. We needed a miracle. We needed Phil Callaway.
And so I took a pass from the corner and skillfully rifled the puck past a sprawling goalie. The red light came on. The girls went wild. The game was tied. And I was a hero. I had scored the goal of my dreams.
Only one goal could top it. The overtime goal.
As I sat in the dressing room waiting for the ice to be cleared, I eased open the locker room door for another peek at the crowd. Prepare yourselves, you lucky people. Tonight destiny is on my side. Tonight will be my night. You will remember me for years to come. Last week when I missed the open net, you chanted my name reassuringly:
That’s all right, that’s okay.
We still love you Callaway.
But not tonight. No need for sympathy, thank you.
Only applause. Wild, exuberant, adoring applause.
And, sure enough, about five minutes into overtime I scored the winning goal. It is a moment that is forever available to me on instant replay and sometimes in slow motion. As the puck slid toward the open net, I dove, trying desperately to forge its direction. As the crowd rose to its feet, I swatted the puck across the goal line.
The red light lit.
The girls screamed.
But they were not cheering for me.
I had just scored into my own net.
I don’t remember much that happened after that. In fact, the next number of years are a bit of a blur. I do remember making a beeline for the locker room, where I sat down and threw a white towel over my head. And I recall the comments of my fellow teammates: “Don’t worry about it, Callaway. Anyone coulda done that…if he was totally uncoordinated.”
I pulled the towel around my ears to muffle the laughter. Then I unlaced my skates. And hung them up. For good.
Upon arriving home, I headed straight for my room. A bad case of the flu had kept Dad from the game.
“How did it go?” he asked, standing in the doorway, studying my pale face and knowing part of the answer.
“Aw, Dad,” I said, hanging my head. “I can’t tell you. You’re sick enough.”
Flopping onto my bed, I put my hands behind my head and stared at the stucco ceiling. Dad entered my room and sat beside me, saying nothing.
“Did you ever do something so stupid you wished for all the world you could go back twenty-four hours and start the day again?” I asked.
“Well,” said Dad, “there was the time I shot out Old Man Henderson’s headlights with my .22…and then there was—”
I interrupted him for the first time in years. Then sat up. Buried my head in my fists. And told him everything: The shock of the crowd. The shame of the dressing room. My play that would live in infamy. I didn’t dare look at his face. The face of a proud dad. A dad who had dreams of his own for his youngest son.
There was silence for a minute. Then Dad put his hand on my knee and did the most unexpected thing in the world.
He began to laugh.
And I couldn’t believe I was doing it…but I joined him.
It was the last thing either of us expected. It was the very best thing.
More than twenty years have passed since the night Dad and I sat on the edge of my bed laughing together. I remember it as the night I determined to skate again. In fact, I’m still skating. I’ve even managed to score a few goals over the years. Into the right net. But no goal will ever be as memorable as that overtime goal.
For several years after I’d wake up in a cold sweat reliving that awful moment, but when I’d remember Dad’s hand on my knee…I’d smile from ear to ear. You see, that was the night I discovered something that makes the heaviest burdens seem a whole lot lighter.
There on my bed, my father gave me a glimpse into the face of my heavenly Father. A face full of compassion, forgiveness, and grace.
A smiling face.
The face of One who laughs with us.
Sometimes life gets so bad that there is only one thing left to do: laugh. When your dishwasher floods the kitchen, when you accidentally delete a day’s work on the computer, or when you score the winning goal for the wrong team, you’ll find the situation much easier to handle if you can respond to it with a smile instead of a scream.
As we hurry through our days, it’s easy to let life’s problems and stresses distort our perspective. That may be one of the reasons why God gave us laughter…and sunsets…and ice cream…and music…and children.
The child-raising years are filled with some of life’s biggest challenges, yet they pass by so quickly. Soon, by God’s grace, your family will be together in a new, eternal home—a joyous place called heaven. That knowledge should help you keep the temporary pitfalls of daily life in proper perspective.
- James C Dobson
“Infamy on Ice” by Phil Callaway. From Who Put the Skunk in the Trunk? by Phil Callaway (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 1999). Used by permission.