The story of a community is revealed when it responds to change. Communities claim many things, and the people within them proclaim even more. The decisions that are made when times are bad are a reflection of the possibilities that might be realized when they improve.
I ate breakfast with my friend DJ on Monday. We met at my place around 6:45 a.m. and walked down to the Athletic Club. The club opened its doors right before the NBA Playoffs began and even before the Golden State Warriors secured the championship, it had promoted itself as the home for World Cup action. The club was open every game day at 5 a.m. for the earliest matches.
Today the first game did not start until 7 a.m. Our challenge was that there were two games that were playing simultaneously. We had chosen the Uruguay vs. Russia matchup to see just how well Russia stacked up against established competition. Their first two wins were essentially blowouts against teams that struggled to compete. Uruguay has been a major player in the World Cup for decades. Their games had been close challenges and each time the players displayed their mettle. Russia would need more than momentum to defeat Uruguay.
DJ and I both played defense on our college soccer team back when we were old enough to dream about a career in professional sports. We ordered coffee and covered the hot topics in soccer. DJ brought up the newest documentary ESPN 30 for 30 called Nossa Chape about the rebuilding of an underdog soccer program from Brazil after most of the team perished in a plane crash in 2016.
DJ was heartfelt in his descriptions while summarizing the film. I really appreciated that he focused on the value of the community that the team had created before the crash. The players and staff cared about each other and all the families on the team, as much as their own. It made his explanation of the challenges that the club faced when it tried to rebuild the program that much more tragic.
The intention was honorable. The desire to rebuild in the memory of those who were lost is commendable. Honor and intention were not enough. Survivors felt forgotten, the pressure to succeed became an unbearable weight that hampered the players, and a secret that would change the scope of the tragedy was slowly uncovered.
It also brought up an interesting point about the United States Men’s National Soccer Team and its failure to qualify for the cup this time around. When we were younger becoming a member of the USMNT was a dream, and because of our age, we believed that it was still a possibility. If nothing else it was an aspiration that drove us to want more, to try more, and to be more.
I can only imagine what the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, or the National Football League represent to the players who dream of attaining professional status. When I was in high school and even after, Major League Soccer was a fledgling program. It was so small that it appeared that only players from international teams and European leagues and maybe the odd USMNT all-star or college standout made the cut.
And there were rumors. So many confusing stories about how to get in or what route to take. We wanted answers and we watched the games on television and we dreamed without any path to reach them.
The more we talked the more we were reminded of the community that DJ left when he moved from Oahu to California. He told me that the recognition that Hawaii was the nexus for cultures from every part of the world had led to a conscientious decision to recognize each of them equally. It was a shared responsibility that valued the need to work together.
Responsibility is a necessity on an island when the size of the land and the number of people using it guarantees that it will fail without responsibility. This is not an option, but a life and death understanding. Each person’s actions directly impact every other person on the island. It makes them dependent and accountable.
It also strengthens the bonds of community. By relying on each other, caring for each other as much if not more than we do for ourselves is the backbone of great communities. I do not know that a lack of community was a factor in the U.S. missing a shot at the World Cup in Russia. I do know that its best chances will come when the community values described by my friend, values exemplified by a soccer team from Brazil and the chain of islands that create the state of Hawaii.
The game ended and DJ and I went on to face our separate afternoons and evenings. Later I watched Portugal and Iran battle to a draw, much like Spain and Morocco were doing at the same time. I could not let go of the idea of community that DJ had planted in my head. It invaded the podcast I was recording and it became a theme that was more than I was capable of addressing because I was still wrapping my arms around it.
Hawaii and North America are very similar. Both are masses of land surrounded by water. The amount of land is finite. We can choose to wait for the space to run out and then treat each other like a community that must depend on each other, or we can act now and strengthen a bond that will make us stronger when our growing population requires us to live closer together.
Sometimes you meet a friend for breakfast and enjoy a polite conversation. I was lucky enough to watch the World Cup with my friend and teammate. When it was over I walked away with a reminder of the value that our teamwork created when we were younger, and what it now meant for our friendship.