Friday, March 9, 2001
Surviving Another One, With Help
Tuesday, when the storm was winding down, my husband and I labored to find our cars under what seemed like an immeasurable amount of snow. As we shovelled and shovelled and shovelled, we heard the fire horn in the center of town sound. Luckily it was just the regular noon blast, but it started me thinking. Here we were, struggling to take care of ourselves, and all throughout town there were people seeing to the needs of others. At the height of the storm, while our biggest job was hunkering down and keeping the house warm in preparation for the inevitable power outage, there were people out there, making sure that we could be reached in case of an emergency.
So here's to the intrepid winter storm workers: the department of public works, whose rumbling snowplows provide such a comforting sound over the howling wind, the police and fire departments, the EMTs and, last but not least, all those independent snow contractors, who endure breakdowns and drive into ditches, all in an attempt to keep our driveways clear. The next time winter roars, and you sit cozily by your fireside, give a thankful thought for those who are out there, keeping those lifelines open.
About this time of year, I am only too ready to leave behind the viral fevers that germinate in February, and to welcome the early symptoms of spring fever in their place. Of course, March in New England is no day at the beach. But the feverishness of "March Madness" is as warm a harbinger of the changing seasons as I require.
The day after tomorrow, a committee will announce its selection of teams to fill the brackets for the tournament to determine the national collegiate basketball champion. On that announcement, 64 teams (and about 768 players) will learn where they will travel to begin their effort. Another half-dozen or so disappointed teams will learn that they will not have the chance to play. On Monday morning, the newspapers will discuss the almosts, briefly, and the selections, in depth. And by Tuesday, our offices will fill with discussion of which teams will surprise the experts.
The rhetoric of sport is, for the most part, overwrought, and more hyperbole will herald the event than ought. But the NCAA March basketball tournament persists as one of the more pleasurable spectacles on the sporting landscapeand a suitably escapist bridge from winter to spring.
"Hope springs eternal" among the optimists. Colleges you've never heard of (representing conferences you've never heard of, for that matter) enter the tournament as equals among the Dukes and North Carolinas of the world. Some of them will win a game or two.
I make it an annual tradition to fill out a bracket before the tournament begins (not for money, of course), listing my predictions for each game through the championship. Years ago, I thought I knew enough about the teams to gauge their likely success. I now pay little attention to the teams until the tournament, so my predictions are little more than guesswork. It is testament to the inherent randomness and magic of the tournament that my success rate has been fairly constant, regardless of my knowledge.
In a world where we are pressured to take most things too seriously, and where even most sporting events are assigned inappropriately epic consequence, it is refreshing to find an event where pure whimsy so often governs. Especially in the early rounds, heavy favorites will lose to obscure underdogs. At least one game will be decided by a buzzer-beating desperation heave from beyond half court. Other games will fall when an easy ten-foot jump shot does not. Through it all will march legions of players who, when it is over, will go on to lead lives as doctors or stockbrokers or car salesmen.
In our seasonal allocation of sentiment, the fall and winter are typically serious; we stay inside, with our heads down, hard at work. As warmer times approach, we begin to emerge from the weight of seriousness much as we throw off our heavy winter coats, and we let our hopes and dreams soar on the lighter breezes from the south. And so, in a triumph of hope over experience, I will once again fill out a tournament bracket (picking my home state of Illinois to win), and then watch as the play unfolds in its wonderfully unpredictable way, with unlikely outcomes produced by improbable heroes. When it's over, spring will have arrived, and (speaking of whimsical hopes!) opening day at Fenway will be just days away.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito