Other than my parents and brother, I can’t think of anything else in my life I have cared about as long as the Washington Capitals. I was born in Washington and went to my first game at age 4 or 5. That was in the late 1970s. That first outing ignited a life-long love of both hockey and the Capitals, one that has only grown as I have been able to share it with my wife and children.
In the nearly four decades since that first game, Capitals fans have known mostly heartache. The club’s playoff history reads like a horror story: no Stanley Cups, only one appearance in the finals (where they were promptly swept), blown playoff series leads too many to count, an all-time losing record in playoff series they have led 2-0, a 2-7 record in Game 7s — at home. I could go on, but really, you get the point.
The latest indignity was a 5-0 loss to the New York Rangers Monday night. In Game 7. At home. Of a series they once led, 2-0. Washington was shut out in both Games 6 and 7 after grabbing a 3-2 series lead.
Veronica found it odd that I watched this debacle with a calm demeanor. Maybe I’ve just accepted this is who the Capitals are, who they’ll always be.
But I prefer to think there is another force at work, and it has to do with a worldview that has been altered by our family’s experience with autism.
Autism has taught me many lessons. It has forced me to think critically about all aspects of my parenting style. It has led me to always have a plan — and to always be ready to change it. But more than anything, it has taught me to appreciate small moments and little victories. It has taught me to try to live with a hyper focus on the present while trying not to look too far ahead to the future. I try to compare Ryan’s progress only to Ryan, and not to Riley or his peers. What can he do today, this month, this year that he couldn’t yesterday, last month, last year? That is how I try to measure progress (with varying degrees of success, I’ll admit).
In short, I try to look at life more through a microscope, drilling down on the tiniest details of what’s right in front of us, and less through a telescope, focused on some faraway goal that we may or may not reach.
So what does this worldview have to do with playoff hockey?
Washington also lost to the Rangers last year, also in Game 7. I was lucky enough to attend that game, sitting in some amazing seats through the incredible generosity of a college friend. When that game was over I was disappointed, sure, but I was more thankful for the experience. It was my first-ever in-person Game 7, and the atmosphere was incredible. I spent it in the company of a good friend I don’t get to see as often as I wish. What was there to be upset about?
I attended one other game of that series: Game 4, in Washington, with Ryan. The Capitals won in dramatic fashion and Ryan and I had a fantastic time, spending an entire weekend in each other’s company focused on nothing but hockey.
We repeated the experience last week, heading down for a Saturday afternoon playoff game, witnessing a dramatic win, staying in our favorite hotel, eating pizza together at the hotel restaurant, and dropping by Caps’ practice the next day. In the car, we spent plenty of time talking and listening to U2. It was a wonderful time, and it came in the middle of a difficult stretch for us, making it even more important to appreciate the moment.
I guess what I’m trying to say is the disappointment of Game 7s, this year and last, pales in comparison to the beauty and wonder of the experiences I had with Ryan at the games we attended. For three hours, we cheered, we screamed, we hugged, we high-fived random strangers, we acted like kids. Thirty years from now, I suspect I’ll remember the details of those trips a lot more than what happened in Game 7.
More and more as I get older I realize it’s the memories I collect that matter most. Maybe the Capitals will win the Stanley Cup one day. Maybe they’ll even do it in dramatic fashion, coming from behind to win a Game 7 on home ice. If it happens, I’ll have another memory to go along the ones I’ve gathered these past few years.
I’m not looking through a telescope focused on that faraway goal. I’m right here, living in the present, soaking in the details of the here and now through, trying to live life through a microscope.