The white soccer ball crashed against the long resident’s hall of the ashram. We were sweaty and breathless, running back and forth, up and down, overflowing with happiness.
“It’s mine,” I screamed. “No, No!” Isabella roared, elbowing me out of the way. I have it; it’s mine, mine, mine!”
I had forgotten I could run like that or laugh so hard.
My daughter, Kristen, lives in an ashram, a quiet contemplative place for meditation, yoga and inward looking. My eleven-year-old granddaughter, Isabella, lives there as well, and had just gotten a new soccer ball. The large meditation hall was upstairs in another building. It was seven o’clock in the evening, the hour when all good residents put dinner dishes away and leave in pursuit of dynamic stillness, being guided by a spiritually-awakened teacher in lessons of devotion and service to humanity.
I thought Bella and I were safe. Of course, I knew that playing soccer in the ashram was a trespass, not unlike starting a game in the halls of the Vatican, but could not resist. Isabella was my heart and saying no to an innocent demonstration seemed silly.
The area was clearly defined. The pair of potted palms near the east wing would be one goal, the residents’ kitchen in the west, another. Kick. The ball bounced off the walls near the brocade thangka of the Green Goddess Tara. Kick. It neared the ceiling and bounced down by a vase of stargazer lilies. Oops, too out of control. “We don’t want to get in trouble,” I warned. “Keep it low, keep it down.” Ah, a sneaky corner kick from Bella careened against a resident’s door. A head peered out. It was Sam. “Join us,” I said, continuing to run. He declined, retracting his head with a quick, “No thanks.”
A sideswipe and steal from me pushed Isabella’s speed into high gear. Shoes were not allowed in the ashram so kicking had to be done on the inside of the foot. There were no off-sides, no points, just running and panting in uncontrolled merriment. Kick. The ball flew against the wall near a painting of the Buddha, safe within a circle of lotus petals. Kick. It hit the ceiling again, bouncing against a door. Wally stuck his head out this time, grumbled and went back in.
“Wait, wait, I need a minute!” I was bent over, my hands on my knees, hot breath pounding my lungs. “No mercy,” Bella shouted, grabbing the ball and lurching toward the goal. I rallied, determined not to be defeated, bursting into a sprint by the mandala of Mahamaya, blocking the finish. We both crashed on the rug, bodies twisted and sore. We giggled, screamed, ran and kick- kick-kicked full throttle. The ball came to rest near a series of madras as residents begin trickling on to the playing field.
We’d been competitive for a full hour. We both knew we should stop but couldn’t give it up. I invited returning residents to join the team. All declined until the guilt of our trespass pushed us back to normality and a sad letting-go of athletic bliss. Kid-sitting was over. We shared a strenuous salty embrace and parted ways. I walked past exotic guardians and deities, slipped into my shoes beneath a photograph of a temple in Katmandu and made my way home.
The next day Kristen was counseled about the wayward actions of her mother and asked to prevent such behavior from ever happening again. She obeyed and so did we, but neither I nor Isabella would regret one second, nor could we ever think of that hallway in the same peaceful light again.