Hafiz, and the House Key Problem

comments 21

One morning
Hafiz was giving
a seaside discourse
on the subject of Love.
The wind was whipping
in off the surf, causing
flags to flutter and hats to fly.
Overhead, gray clouds and brilliant sun
were vying for dominance,
swirling around one another
so that the sky appeared to boil like a kettle.

A woman near the back stood
to ask a question.
“What about the hockey problem?”

The wind carried her words
directly from her mouth
to the next town over,
like trails of smoke
released into a wind tunnel.

“The house key problem?”
Hafiz replied, his hand
cupped to his ear.  “This
is no problem, surely-“

“No, no!” she cried.
“The hockey problem!”
The act of yelling
really seemed to dislodge something
because she was off and running,
like a race horse lunging from the starting gate.
“All those goons crashing into each other,
smashing one another
up against the boards,
defaming one another’s mothers,
pointing and taunting
in between plays,
sacrificing teeth and bones
and their better natures
over a little rubber puck,
always losing their cool
and smacking things
with their sticks: each other,
the goal posts, the ice, the walls, the benches…
Oh- and spitting…
They spit, too.
Right on the ice,
on the bench, in the penalty box.
It’s gross, violent and vile.
It’s shameful and disgusting.”

She was really winding up
as she came around the far turn.

“It’s awful.  Just awful.
It’s skulduggery with instant replay.
Each team has a couple of uncouth Goliaths
they send out onto the ice
like half-starved pit bulls
when enough is enough.
They whip around the rink
like heat-seeking missiles
until at least one man
wearing the wrong-colored sweater
is up-ended, lifted off his feet and twirled around
like an enemy flag being rent in two,
nearly dislodged from his moorings or
crumpled into the boards
for what someone did the last time to their guy.
Message delivered.  Everyone cheers in approval,
their eyes hot and red,
their beers and chili dogs trembling in their hands,
as though justice has finally come to the land.
Then it’s back to the puck.
When the puck does what they want,
the players pound the glass with their fists
and scream like victorious barbarians.
When the puck doesn’t do what they want,
they pound each other with their fists
and grunt like the Roman legion.
And the whole time,
the coaches glare at everything in sight
like caged eagles who have taken offense
at existence itself.
It is a scar on this land,” she finally concluded.
“Something must be done.”

Hafiz listened.
The wind blew.
The sun danced over the water.
The rest of the crowd
sat speechless, sharing a silence,
though each in their own way-
one stunned by the intensity of the outpouring,
one smirking and ready to laugh her off as a quack,
one curious how Hafiz would respond,
one wanting to comfort her,
one wanting to shut her the hell up
so time wouldn’t be wasted on such absurd questions,
and so on…

“This is not just an important question,” Hafiz said finally,
“it is the only question that matters.
Because if we are honest,
we can see that we each
have a hockey game inside of us.
We are full of hockey players,
and if they will fight like that
for a score line, imagine what
they will do when their
very existence is called into question.
I suggest,” he concluded,
“that everyone buy season tickets.”

“Season tickets?”

“Distance does not transform.
You must stay close to them,
invite them into your Home.”

“What happened
to your hockey players?”
someone asked.

“Oh, they are still there,” he said, winking.

“So… are they, like, figure skaters now?”

“No,” he scoffed, taking a moment to spit on the beach.
“No self-respecting hockey player could
turn to figure skating.”

“What then?  Did they retire?”

“No, no…
They are toothless ambassadors of Existence itself,
radiant-sweatered skaters
charging across the heavens,
careening into every falsehood,
pinning them up against the boards,
daring them to test the resolve
of Love’s bannermen,
whispering from the bench
every time they skate past
that resistance is futile…
that one day you too
will join us, because
with Hafiz inside us,
we can keep this up all night…
Take the easy road, they say now.
Don’t be like we were,
learning the hard way that
no falsehood can go that distance…”


    • You and Don are from Vancouver, right? So you must have a bit of hockey in your blood somehow. I grew up mostly in Alabama and my first experience of hockey was a minor league team they stationed down there for rehabilitation. When I was in high school we went to a few games, eager to see some tactical fisticuffs. They had this guy, Jerome “Stay Out of My Yard” Bouchard, who they sent out when the other team needed a little spirit taken out of their game. I have actually come to enjoy watching play-off hockey… It is such a fast game. The difference in tone between sports is amazing to me. On the one hand you have hockey, and on the other, professional baseball… What an unbelievable world!



      • Well neither of us are fans of hockey but being Canadian it’s hard to avoid so I’ve seen enough for your description to strike home. I am, however a huge fan of figure skating and follow the competitive season every year. Your bit about the hockey players becoming figure skaters also tickled me. There used to be (before massive budget cuts by a government that makes my skin crawl) a TV reality show on CBC that paired retired hockey players with retired elite competitive figure skaters. It was an elimination type show, and each pair had to come up with a new routine every week. It was very professional with high production values, and hugely popular. One of the best things to come out of it was big tough well-known popular hockey players going on record over and over about how difficult and dangerous figure skating is. They had no idea. It was especially good for all the young boys who preferred figure skating. It became a bit less controversial.
        I always liken baseball to cricket – both very very slow games that require a deep knowledge of rules and strategy to be appreciated.


        • That show sounds really interesting. It sounds very similar to a show in the US called Dancing with the Stars, where different notable figures were paired with professional dancers and then they have competitions. Some of the stars were notable athletes, but I think the hockey-figure skating combo takes the cake.

          Figure skating blows my mind every time I see it, which I confess is primarily in the Olympics. I’m pretty sure if I tried even a single lutz my head would fly off into the judges’ booth and at least one ankle would be shattered on the landing. I would probably change the appreciation of the level of difficulty contained within the sport, however… 🙂 I was hooked by the ice dancing competition in Sochi. That, and wondering why it is that nations excel at particular events, like those speed-skating Dutch! Unbelievable.



      • The hockey skating combo worked well because they all started at least being able to skate. Plus they were all high level athletes so very competitive used to working really rally hard.
        I’ve been watching most of the latest edition of DWTS because your US Olympic Ice Dance champions were both in it, and one of the won it. Ice Dance is my favourite discipline though I enjoy and follow all four.
        I suppose Netherlands excels at speed skating because of all those frozen canals, and Canada at skating, hockey and snow sports because what else are ya gonna do in a land of ice and snow. Aussies excel at swimming again because of the climate. Oz – 24 mil and 300,000 swimming clubs. US – 250 mil and 100,00 swimming clubs.


        • So a similar discussion probably explains why the Earth is quickly becoming the cat’s meow of awakening. Something about our swim clubs and pictographical travel blogs, our potholed history, the spectrum of our incident solar wavelengths, our collective woundedness, our geostellar cosmography, Murakami novels or something like that. 🙂

          Oh, yeah. And the hockey. Definitely the hockey.




  1. This is masterful! You’ve echoed the loving invitation to “buy season tickets!” And dive INTO our passions and conflicts, not avoid them. After all, they won’t go away.
    Resistance is futile.
    Acceptance is living – with life!
    Now, how would Hafiz deal with Nascar? 🙂
    Vincent Paz


    • Thanks, Vincent, and thanks for the reblog!

      You got exactly what I was trying to somehow sculpt with words. Your comment reminds me, too, that going the other way- away from our passions- can leave us powerless and shrunken. There really is nothing to be done but suit up!

      Nascar… I don’t know. Probably start with removal of those dadgummed restrictor plates!? 🙂



  2. Thank you, this one has the sense of an epic; a great battle/struggle takes place and nobody knows which way it’ll go… feels like this really is an amazing journey and then there’s the ending that’s exactly right. I’m pleased too with the afterthought: ‘radiant-sweatered skaters charging across the heavens, careening into every falsehood, pinning them up against the boards.’ I feel like everything’s been resolved and all is well…


    • Thank you. Sometimes when I reflect on the nature of Love, or Truth, or whatever you wish to call the power that gives rise to all beings and times and places, I am struck by its pure and brilliant radiance. I am overwhelmed sometimes– in a good way– by the fact that there exists a Presence that can stare down any difficulty any being has ever faced or felt. It has a feel like those radiant skaters “charging across the heavens”. It is interesting to think of the different sensations one can equate with the ineffable. The ineffable is both sublimely gentle, a compassion that can embrace any coldness, and supremely powerful at the same time, a holy warrior singing on the ridgeline willing to grapple with any disease or difficulty we may face. The many faces of Love, if you will… 🙂



  3. brilliant michael! i’m from canada and it made me laugh. i think i’m one of the few in this country who just doesn’t get the hockey thing. (shhhh) 🙂 aleya


    • Thanks, Aleya! There are many things I just don’t get… 🙂 Faced with such uncertainty, best to just bless it and let the sky fill up our heart container, no? I never played hockey other than asphalt hockey in elementary school, which was always my favorite part of the day.



    • Excellent. I have never played any type of hockey other than street hockey in elementary school, and have only even ice skated once or twice in my life, but hockey can sure be an exciting sport to watch!

      Imagine that rambunctious, hustling and bustling, determined, competing presence harnessed to undo falsehood!



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