I loved to shoot baskets when I was growing up. Since basketball season overlaps with winter, and winter in the mitten state is the real thing, two things were required each time I played: a basketball and a shovel.
My basketball obsession began in our next-door neighbor’s driveway. He was a kind man who patiently permitted me and often my friends to play for hours. So kind, in fact, that I didn’t hesitate to ring his doorbell and ask him to move his car if it was accidentally parked in the middle of our court. He’d spring out the door, move the car, then grab the basketball on the way inside and attempt one crazy shot from the front steps.
The endless days of shooting baskets and interrupting dinners led to a friendly offer: What if we dig up the pole (which was secured in concrete) and move it to your driveway? After the ground thawed sufficiently, we did just that. Now, I had a hoop of my own.
When the next season arrived, my obsession grew and I decided that neither snow, ice, or a single-digit wind chill factor would prevent me from playing.
Most afternoons after school, I’d grab my coat, hat, and gloves and start shoveling the snow off the driveway. As anyone who has experienced the depths of winter knows, under all that snow is, more often than not, a solid sheet of ice. I risked playing ever-so-carefully on the ice a few times until I fell so hard I couldn’t breathe.
So, step two was to remove the ice. This involved breaking through the ice with the edge of the shovel until a small island of pavement was revealed. Then, I could get underneath the ice and start clearing a large enough area to use. In desperation, I once tried spreading table salt. Thankfully, there weren't any witnesses.
It was satisfying and exhausting work, and after about 30 minutes, I could finally play. At this point, my mom would turn on the porch light so I could see just enough. Nevertheless, I usually didn’t stop until I had no other choice.
There’s nothing quite like that single-minded purpose when you’re young. I wanted to shoot baskets and would do whatever it took. In conditions I would now have trouble tolerating on the way to my car, I was lost in every bounce and shot—oblivious, happy, warm. Obstacles were irrelevant.
The all-consuming love of someone or something is what fills and sustains us. It may last a lifetime or a few winters. It’s painful and glorious and looks utterly foolish to anyone walking by. It may leave you breathless. It may never leave you. It is, above all else, a gift.