When I was in elementary school, we frequently played dodgeball during PE class (this was in the 80s, long before the game attracted outcry and controversial attention). There are probably dozens of variations on dodgeball game play, but here’s how it went for us: the PE teachers chose two kids at random as presidents. The presidents took turns selecting people for their sides based on whatever factors they favored, which were primarily social hierarchy and/or athletic ability. After these public politics in the hands of children had divided the groups into two opposing teams, the final two kids to be picked on each side were named the “medics” for their team, and everyone else headed onto the court. According to this game’s strangely cruel rulebook, the medics then sat on the sidelines of the gym on their “gurneys”, which were flat plastic seats, approximately 18 inches square, set on four caster wheels. The kids on the court commenced to aim and pelt each other with playground balls (you know, the red rubber kind crosshatched with raised ridges), exercising social and physical target practice, and as soon as someone was hit, he or she had to sit in the spot of contact. This is when one of the medics for that kid’s team would spring into action, propelling herself on her gurney with feet and hands across that gym floor gauntlet of harm’s way to rescue the fallen teammate, who then took a seat on the gurney and was pushed by the medic back to the sidelines. Assuming that the pair made it across the court safely, the medic would then enter the game as a player and the fallen teammate would assume the post of medic, sitting on the gurney and scanning the court for others needing lifesaving.
However, if a medic was hit by an opposing team member as he scooted his way across to offer salvation, or if he was hit on his return trip to the safe zone, he was required to sit in place and await the team’s other medic to ferry him back (and the kid he was saving would have to be saved again). Now, if that second medic took a hit trying to save the first medic, the game ended immediately. Alternatively, if both medics were out in the field simultaneously and both were felled by the opposing team, this, too, marked the end of the game. No more medics. No one could be saved because there was no one left to do the saving. Game over.
The team that took out enough of its opponents to necessitate both medics being called to action, and that then was able to eliminate the medics, reigned triumphant. One-sided cheers reverberated in the echo chamber of that metal and cinderblock gymnasium, its walls decorated with banners hung to commemorate the victories of other champion teams. The PE teachers would blow their whistles, we’d toss the balls back in the giant wire bins, collect our sweaters from the bleachers, and carry on upstairs to say grace in the cafeteria.
Is it just me, or do those red balls remind you just a little bit of a certain particle? Is it just me, or does this bizarre game seem just a little too familiar? I do know that if a whistle existed right now that could signal the end of this period and the beginning of another, one full of goodness and grace, I think we’d all raise our cartons of chocolate milk and drink to that.