by Dan Bauer
It might be as simple as the final page of a good book, or the last bite of prime cut rib eye steak. It could be as bitter sweet as a high school graduation or a new job opportunity. Or it can be as painful as the loss of a family pet or the broken heart over the death of family member or friend. When you are young you don’t even realize it is happening and then at some point, there is a moment when it comes into clear focus, all good things must come to an end.
Why did they have to be right about this one?
We abstractly talk about these moments in our life as doors closing and turning the page. We walk away; we move on, we finish a chapter. When what you are leaving behind is your college debt or a bad job they can be times to celebrate. Never have I watched one of the “good things” in my life come to a close and said, well it’s about time. And while bad stretches can seem to last forever, the good things always close up shop earlier than we would like.
Everyone would probably agree that the worldwide pandemic has at the very least put a halt to many good things. Others it has indeed ended. Making lists has become a favorite digital pastime as we search for ways to electronically connect to each other. We could all easily put together one that includes all the things we miss and have taken for granted instead of being thankful for.
Opening new doors can be as difficult as closing old ones and they are virtually tantamount in their existence. One is always followed closely by the other. And as those doors swing, we are forced to embrace an intimidating concept called change and the entire unknown that accompanies it. It becomes an emotional ping-pong game bouncing from the sadness of leaving and the anticipation of what is ahead. Tom Brady, going through a change of his own recently said, “Changes and challenges are part of life. They’re supposed to happen. They need to happen sometimes.”
When faced with those life changing decisions we seek the right answer, but like a contestant on “Let’s Make Deal” nobody can provide it, but you. Surprisingly there is no shortage of videos on this door dilemma tabbed, “The Monty Hall Problem.” Apparently it involves math, no wonder I struggle with it, and has baffled mathematicians for decades.
Eighteen years ago I closed a door and opened a new one by accepting a job at Wausau East and left behind Spooner and a Rails Hockey program I had been a part of for eleven years. When I telephoned East athletic director Mike Younggren and told him yes, I was excited and it felt like the right decision. Four months later as I drove away from my house in Spooner for the last time I felt physically ill and was convinced I had made a huge mistake. A year later I still wasn’t convinced.
Like wading into a new movie there is uncertainty and every new character you meet is a stranger. Time disappears, you get pulled in and two hours, or twenty years pass and as the credits roll you wonder where the time went. Reluctantly Wausau became our home and my youngest daughters became the first in our family to start and finish in the same school district. The pain was replaced by people who became colleagues, neighbors and lifelong friends. I built my own small business, welcomed my first two grandchildren and walked my oldest daughter down the aisle. Layers of great memories have been painted over the previously strange blank canvas.
Now again, due to a job change that came with little warning, another door must reluctantly be closed. I spent this past week penning letters to all my players after I turned in my letter of resignation as head coach of the Wisconsin Valley Union. It was both a rewarding and emotionally draining task. When a good thing, like my time with the Union ends, I find myself still lamenting and second-guessing my decision. The process of moving again is intimidating and the painful memories of leaving Spooner come rushing back. The thought of packing up all I have accumulated both physically (a bit of a hoarder) and emotionally is overwhelming. And while the capacity of your house has a limit, your mind’s ability to store emotions is infinite. The door closes but the emotional suitcase comes with you.
The pandemic is physically forcing millions of doors to close and as a society we are overwhelmed. In my mind I felt the same crushing sense of doors slamming shut as I said goodbye to my players. Thankfully I know, and while I am not there yet, there is a silver lining ahead. Like the puppy or kitten that will be the next family member, the excitement of opening that new door awaits.
You know the new door will bring opportunity and a new challenge. The comfort zone you occupy will be replaced by the new normal you will forge. For me the adrenalin of a new challenge has been the catalyst to move forward and resist the urge to look back. The experience and knowledge gained prompt confidence and eagerness to step through the new door and discover the next good thing!
As I take a final look back, I am thankful for this chapter and the many doors that took me from Wausau East to the Central Wisconsin Storm to Waupaca and finally the creation of the Wisconsin Valley Union. In each experience there were dedicated players, supportive parents and unique journeys through each season. I met players who impacted me in a way I will never forget and dozens of parents who have changed my perceptions with their unwavering support. I will leave feeling great pride in the renaissance of the Lumberjacks, getting to the state tournament with my daughters, meeting the challenge in Waupaca and the creation of the “Sisterhood.” Great memories built by great players, coaches and parents.
Finally to my adopted “daughters,” thanks for making practice the best part of every day and for believing in and helping create the “Sisterhood.” Thanks for teaching me about coaching girls and helping me realize that I can push you harder, communicate even better and let my passion for the game always shine through. I will miss you terribly and only the prospect of finding a new “hockey family” keeps me optimistic to find a new door. I care about each of you like you were my own daughters.
I know one day looking back there will be memories filled with smiles and laughter, but right now the hurt of seeing it end keeps my foot firmly stuck in the door.