I was a bench warmer.
I got a front row seat to every game. I had the vantage point of seeing the plays before they were called. I got to crowd-watch and get to know other players on other teams, mostly because I wasn’t a threat. I got to enjoy those moments with the coach when my teammates excelled, and I felt the burden of defeat along side of them. I handed them water bottles when they were exhausted and provided a body to lean against when they were weak. I didn’t feel slighted or second best. I was a bench warmer, and I enjoyed my role.
My blood went cold, and my heart leapt to my chest when I saw the coach jump up from his seat and signal. I watched the look on the players faces and heard the star player begging as she made her way to closer, “Don’t bench me, Coach! Don’t bench me! I got this!” While my voice trembled and echoed in a silent prayer, “Don’t bench her, Coach! Don’t bench her!”
But, the whistle was blown, the look was given, and as I squatted at the table so the statisticians could record my number, I lookedlongingly at my bench. Suddenly nothing felt right anymore. The plays that I had just seen drawn and imagined played suddenly became mine to call, and Icouldn’t remember them! The Coach was trying to get my attention, and I was commanding lunch to stay down. My feet felt heavy and the ball felt awkward and my ADD brain couldn’t handle the activity around me.
So there I was. Bracing myself. “Just get through this play, Leslie!” I begged. “Play and you can go back home!” I barely felt the ball, concentrating all my energies instead on not regurgitating, making sure I was still upright, and looking for some word of direction from my teammates. The flurry of activity was amazing, and voices I recognized screamed out, “Pass it to me, pass the ball!” I strategized and I maneuvered and watched in agony as the ball was snatched and launched in the wrong direction. All the while, trying not to look at the safety of my bench and the discouragement of the star player.
“Go!” the Coach signaled frantically, “Get the ball back!” Almost to the point of tears, I rushed after the opposing team. The missionimpossible theme was playing in my head. Only it wasn’t for me, it was against me. This back and forth went on for quite some time before my substitution ended in a mess of tangled shoelaces at center court. And finally, Praise God, the whistle blew!
I sat back on my bench, resisting the urge to rub it and lie down and cuddle. I was home. Finally. Doing what I did best, cheering and encouraging and watching. I barely even noticed the Coach put his head in his hand after he ushered the now rested star back on the court; I had finished!
Here is the thing about us: the star player and I. We both had practice. We both ran laps and did push ups and learned plays and did drills. Only, she pushed herself, and I merely cooperated, doing the minimum to get by. She wanted to excel and I merely wanted to be a part of the team. She wanted to win, and I just wanted to finish. Needless to say, it showed on the court.
I am a bench warmer.
And the danger of that is, I want to stay a bench warmer. It is far easier for me to watch the game and do what is comfortable than to ever take the court! It’s far easier for me to cheer others on than to hustle and sweat and actually play the game. I don’t want to be the star player, but I want her to win!
Life isn’t much different.
I still long for the comfort of a bench.