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Toward Gratitude and Renewal July 31, 2012

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

It’s July 31st, and the dog days of hockey are upon us.  The awards for last season have long since been handed out; the Entry Draft we’ll only be able to grade a few years hence; and the preseason is still a ways off.  But at this point, the knowns have moved around considerably, and we should have a much clearer picture of where the Capitals will stand heading into the 2012-2013 campaign.

It’s admittedly been a trying couple of months for me, both personally and as a Capitals fan.  The personal matters I need not trouble you all about; I’ll stick to the hockey, and have done with it.  I’d rather not give the haters any reason for glee at my expense.

I’ll come right out and say it:  I’m still smarting a bit from this year’s playoffs.  This really should have been the year.  We HAD that series against New York.  HAD it.  And lost it.  How we would have done against New Jersey, never mind Los Angeles, only Providence can know.  But the New York series…darn it, we HAD that one.

But, to hear some of the long-time fans tell it, hey, welcome to Washington, and this is just the way the hockey goes around here.

But like the songwriter once said, I won’t accept this thought, that this is who we are.

I have been trying, very quietly, over here in my out-of-the-way, overlooked, and oft-neglected corner of the Capitals blogosphere, to say that THIS IS NOT THE WAY IT HAS TO BE.  Hell, this is not the way it SHOULD be.  Washington has been a good choice for free agents the last couple of years, because the PROFESSIONALS (ahem) think this team has a shot.  A GOOD shot.  An I’d-like-to-toil-sweat-and-bleed-for-this-team-because-I-think-it’s-that-good shot.  That ought to count for something, I should think.

Why don’t we, the fans, think that?  Why is every postseason disappointment met with “See, what did I tell you?”  I honestly believe there are Capitals fans out there who take a backwards pride in watching the team lose, just because it proves how “smart” they are.

I’ve said it before, more times than I probably should have, but it bears repeating.  WHAT WE BELIEVE, IS WHAT WE’LL GET.  IT.  IS.  UNIVERSAL.  LAW.

Spiritually, I think one of the most unadvisable things to say–though admittedly, I’m guilty of saying it myself–is “I’d love to be wrong on this.”  Well, that’s not your intention, even if you fig-leaf it that way.  Your intention is what you INTENDED, not what you hoped to be wrong about intending.  If enough Caps fans think, thereby intending, that we’re a losing team, guess what?  We’re going to be, and stay, a losing team, perhaps even losing in some of the most unthinkable ways.

See, I don’t think, now that I’ve had enough time to reflect on it, that Joel Ward’s late foul in Game 5 against New York was the CAUSE of the Capitals’ defeat.  It was the EFFECT of all our negativity, all of our waiting for the other shoe to drop, all so some of us could smugly say, “See?  I told you so.”

Let me be blunt.  Joel Ward did not commit the foul that led to our long summer.  We did.  We, the fans, committed a season-misconduct foul against our team’s highest spiritual good.  And because I know I’ll get accused of it, no, I’m not exempting myself from that, either.

The best way to figure out how high your intentions for your team are, is by noticing your reaction to the final season result–in the Capitals’ case, defeat.  How did you feel when Game 7 was over on Broadway?

Were you sad?  Angry?  Devastated?  Smug?  Numb?

I must respectfully submit that unless you felt like you’d just suddenly lost a close friend, your intentions weren’t as high as perhaps they could have been.

Like I said, I am not exempting myself from that, either.  I was watching Game 7 from one of the bars out in Arlington, and when the game was over, I immediately settled my check and headed straight to the Metro.  My thoughts were not on the end of the season; they were on, “I’ve got a train to catch; time to give my jersey a good wash; the BELIEVE sign’s got to go…”

(Side note for the curious:  I have yet to follow through on getting rid of that sign.  I still have it, and it is still in one piece, in more or less the same condition it was when I brought it home from Game 6.  I had a very strong feeling that destroying it would be bad, somehow, so I’ve still got it.  What I’m supposed to do with it, I don’t as yet know.)

Simply put, I didn’t feel the loss.  I was just numb.  The reality did set in quickly, though.  Normally, when I hang up my uniform after a game, I always stage the next game’s ticket in my lanyard, so on game night I can just grab the lanyard, double-check the ticket, and then put it on and get moving.  Not having a ticket to insert, knowing this was it until September–pending labor negotions, on top of that–was when it really started to sink in.  And even then, I didn’t feel much.  Disappointed, absolutely; sort of sad, yeah; but there wasn’t that sense of soul-deep sorrow that, once it passed, would have told me I’d at least done all the intending I could have done.

So when I say it’s our fault, that does include me; and I’m going to have to figure out, over the next couple of weeks, what more I can do to be of greater spiritual assistance to the team.

But I’m just one guy, and I can only do so much.  So this, Caps Nation, is where I need your help.  Humor me on this, will you?  Please?  It might actually help the team win, who knows?

Tomorrow, August 1st, will be a new day.  We generally know, though there may be more moves this month, most of who our 2012-2013 Washington Capitals will be.  Right now, our season is new, our coach is new, and since there have been and may still be roster changes, our team, as a whole, will be new.

It is time for us, the fans, to be new.

“But wait, you jersey foul poster child,” you protest.  “I’ve been following this team since [insert long-ago date here].  How am I supposed to be new, having been there, seen that, and bought a bunch of T-shirts?  That doesn’t make any sense.”

Well, for one thing, you haven’t seen it all:  the Caps haven’t won the Stanley Cup yet.  Nor will they, if you insist on being the same fan you’ve been all these years.  (And make no mistake, this is addressed as much to me as it is to the reader.)

What brought you to the Capitals in the first place?  What was your first game like?  Do you remember?  Who was your favorite player back then?  Why did you like him?

All of us, including me, need to spend the next couple of weeks recalling and reflecting on that first love.  Bring it back.  Soak in it.  Revel in it.  You love this team, darn it, and you’re sure that this will be the year.  Now BELIEVE that.  All the way down to the deepest fiber of your being.  These are your Washington Capitals, and these are the men who will strive to bring Lord Stanley’s Cup to Constitution Avenue next June.  BELIEVE it.

FORGET THE PAST.  It’s over.  Let it go.  That’s not to say you don’t honor and respect the players from days gone by.  It IS to say that last year’s results do not have to be repeated this year.  The season is new; our team is new; and our Belief IN that team must be new, as well.  We need to love our Capitals the way we did when we first discovered them.  And I mean ALL of us, me included.

But, you might wonder, what of the past?  How are we supposed to just dismiss all the underperformances of seasons past?  My solution:  by taking it as the foundation for tomorrow’s success.

There’s a song that actually says this better than I could.  It’s called “Gratitude,” and it’s by VNV Nation.  There’s no way I could have written this, so I’m glad they did.  And if I had to pick the Caps’ theme song for the coming year, this would be it.  It goes like this:

It is not love, if love is cold to touch.
It is not belief, when there’s nothing there to trust.
Could not submit; would never bring myself to heel.
Determination grows, as each truth’s revealed.
Torn and repaired, just to endure it all again,
Without a reason for my place in all this pain.
Though well concealed, the scars, they just compound,
Until there’s nothing left of what was my former self.

My God–look at what we are now, without regrets for all the things that we have done.

Thank you for all the doubts, and for all the questioning;
For all the loneliness, and for all the suffering;
For all the emptiness, and the scars it left inside;
It inspired in me an impetus to fight.
For the conviction, for the purpose found alone;
For the strength and courage that in me I’d never known.
And if it seems to you that my words are undeserved,
I write this in gratitude, for whatever good it serves.

Sometimes I wish that you could see me now,
In the rightful place where I knew that I belonged.
Sometimes I wish that you might someday understand,
And close a chapter, lay to rest the past.
But nothing would change:  we make the best of what we have,
For we are measured by the actions of our lives.
We bide our time, let the future unfold,
Like immortals in great legends to be told.

My God–look at what we are now, without regrets for all the things that we have done.

Thank you for all the doubts, and for all the questioning;
For all the loneliness, and for all the suffering;
For all the emptiness, and the scars it left inside;
It inspired in me an impetus to fight.
To all who stood with me, when we stood as one:
Thank you for guiding me, for bringing me home.
And if it seems that I’m obliged to say these words,
I write this in gratitude, the least that you deserve.

And there’s that G-word again.  We have to be grateful for the team that we have, the players we have, the staff that we have, and yes, the many, many successful moments from the past.  No, the Caps haven’t won the Stanley Cup yet, so we don’t have ultimate success.  That’s fine:  take that point if you please.  But don’t try telling me with a straight face that you didn’t enjoy the game against the Penguins when Ovechkin and Crosby traded hat tricks, but the Capitals ended up winning the game.  Don’t tell me you didn’t get some satisfaction getting to Verizon Center in the middle of the storm of the century to watch the Caps beat those same Penguins.  Don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy watching the Capitals win the Winter Classic, under the lights, in Pittsburgh.  And please don’t waste your time telling me you didn’t get some sense of satisfaction last season seeing Buffalo out of the playoffs, after they’d pranced around our house like they owned it and were somehow a playoff lock.  There have been many, many happy moments in the history of the Washington Capitals, and for those, we do need to be grateful.

If there were not frequent moments of individual greatness, thrilling victories, dramatic performances, and sometimes even athletic artistry throughout any given season, being a hockey fan would be a non-stop downer.  Caps Nation, you and I know that it’s not.  Yes, there are disappointments:  I won’t diminish those.  But don’t let anyone else diminish those happy moments…where your favorite player put in a career night…where some kid just off the bus from the minors played like he didn’t ever want to go back…where the Caps kicked the snot out of that one team you love to hate…or when you had to convince yourself that, yes, one of the Caps really DID just do that astonishing thing that you just saw him do.

Think back on those moments, and be grateful for them.  For if we, as a fan base, can’t even be grateful for the small victories we see on a regular basis, how can we reasonably expect to have the Caps go on to larger victories?

So, for the month of August, while the hockey news slows down a bit, this is something that we all need to try to do at some point.  Stop for a few moments, and be grateful for the team that we have, the players we have–and that means ALL of the players we have–and for the extended family that the team and players have made of all of us.

So, here’s what I’m going to suggest that Caps fans do this month.  Every day, write down ten things about the Caps for which you’re grateful.  Be genuine with this:  save the left-handed gratitude for the message boards.  Phrase it as, “I am so grateful that __________, because _____________.”  Don’t leave out the BECAUSE:  Having a reason for your gratitude will make it more effective.

After you’ve written your list, go back and mentally read, and more importantly, FEEL, what you just wrote.  Only after each blessing, add an emphatic “Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.”  Feel those “thank yous” as deeply as you can, as well.

Let’s all try spending a month of our summer counting our Capitals blessings.  It can’t hurt, and if it makes us love our team more, perhaps that may work to our spiritual benefit.

I’m not going to guarantee on-the-ice miracles if we all do this:  guaranteeing miracles is above my paygrade.  What I WILL guarantee, is that we’ll feel better about the Caps if we spend a month counting our blessings, than we will if we keep on counting our sorrows.

Who’s up for it?

See you tomorrow, with my first ten.