The RISSE soccer team loses many games. They are smaller than their American born counterparts, there are fewer of them, they have only one coach, no cheering section, and very little in the way of equipment or supplies. Some people on my blog generously paid for their training jerseys and colors.
At the game last week with Williamstown, Coach Ali (Amjad Abdullah Mohammed) was shocked to see the entire opposing team pulled off of the field to rest and replaced. "My God," he said, "they all get to rest!" No rest for the RISSE soccer team, there are not enough of them.
The RISSE team had to go the full way. When the team came to Bedlam Farm Sunday, I asked them about what the team meant to them. "it is so important to us, said Thet Naing Min. "They are bigger than us and stronger than us, but it is not about winning or losing, it is about friendship, what we mean to each other. It is about staying together, playing together and supporting each other."
Another player nodded, "this is about our staying together," he said. "It is not about winning."
This is Ali's idea, really, the goal is not to win, although the team loves to win and works to win. The goal is to stick together, support one another and be a good friend to each other.
I went to the game in Williamstown last week and was taking photos and forget to cheer – Ali did all of the cheering. Thursday, I'm going to a game in Clifton Park, N.Y., and I'm bringing Red, we are going to make some noise. And take pictures. It didn't really occur to me that the kids would care if I was there.
I get it. We will show up.
Here, the Army of Good has sent money so the team can go on Saturday excursions to parks and the ocean this summer. We have raised money for birthday celebrations and gifts. I am shortly going to ask for help in paying for a weekend retreat for the team at Pompanuck Farm.
I did not really consider that my presence was important.
But they did care, almost every one of them mentioned that I was there, that I showed up, and thanked me.
The team is very important to these kids, and I did noticed how out manned and out gunned they were at that game. The opposing team had a small army of team players, the snazziest uniforms, two or three coaches, and score of parents yelling from the sidelines. The players loomed over the RISSE kids. Nobody quit or gave up.
As sports sometimes is, the team is a metaphor for the lives of these children, their journey here has been long and hard.
The team – I am going to work to get them to a retreat at Pompanuck Farm over this summer – is all about friendship, and they have already taught me a great deal about friendship, something I have always had trouble with.
"Friendship is unnecessary," C.S. Lewis wrote, "like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself…it has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival."
I do not really know what the term friendship even means, I have had few friends in my life, they seem to melt away, or I melt away. We just don't seem to stick to one another.
The soccer team does stick together. The powerful experiences of being a refugee child bonds them to one another, perhaps for life. They have seen things and experienced things that few people understand, but that everyone on the team viscerally understands.
The team gives value to endurance and survival, two qualities these kids need as they enter their new lives in a troubled America.
Friendship matters to them. People notice. People care. The team is awaking me to the power and necessity of friendship, and I will strive to be a good friend to them, as they already are to me. I see that I am one of them, without quite noticing it.
Emerson wrote that friendship was more powerful and important than romantic love. "The emotions of benevolence," he wrote, "from the highest degree of passionate love, to the lowest degree of good will, they make the sweetness of life."
In their friendship with one another on their soccer team, I see the Risse refugees, these children, discover the emotions of benevolence, and rediscover the sweetness of love. Next to that, winning hardly matters.
This is not about politics, it is about people.