There is a special kind of anticipation that comes with waking up knowing that something exciting or fun or worthwhile is going to happen that day. The feeling that things are not for naught, that one does not regret feeling conscious after not doing so for a time. But further, that there is a hurry, an urgency, a desire for wakefulness that overrides the last vestiges of sleep and makes one savor the sheer process of looking forward to something.
There are extremes of this feeling. The day one gets married, say, or the morning of the first baseball game one can play in or, perhaps better, see on a major-league diamond. Trips to Disneyland. A first date with that certain person. Christmas. It’s no surprise that most of these feelings are associated with either childhood or love, the states of being that unseat our more rational, plodding, conventional approach to life and replace it with the unbridled joy and small recklessnesses of a perspective of innocence. It is hard to be this excited about work day #526 at a mundane bill-paying job or a perfunctory holiday visit to one place or another. It is the excitement, to borrow, only a free person can feel.
Debate mornings have long made me feel this way. I don’t know when exactly debate tournaments started feeling like Christmas, but it was probably sometime after I begrudgingly signed up for parliamentary debate in college and suddenly turned around and won my very first tournament, the epically oversized Columbia Novice Tournament. A Tournament so large and unwieldy that not even every undefeated team broke. Maybe it was the very next tournament after that, after this charmed and magical experience, that I started feeling like the chance to merely attend and compete and talk was like manna, like a cool breeze or a drought-thwarting rain. In the middle of the worst spells of a bumpy collegiate career, it was what sustained me. I stayed at Brandeis more because it gave me a chance to debate than anything on its campus-based merits.
It’s not that every tournament went well or was in any way comparable to the Columbia Novice Tournament. I only won 7 of the next 73 tourneys I attended. Every one that I didn’t brought disappointments or regrets, although I guess the ones where I lost in Finals (6 more) weren’t so bad, usually because I got to run a fun case that I really enjoyed and debated in as many rounds as were held. But part of the vital appeal of each new tournament and each new Friday morning launch was the possibility. Every time one steps into a round, one has a chance at winning. Every time one steps into a tournament, one imagines oneself at the head of that room, arguing one’s way through Finals.
I can’t participate in Final Rounds any longer, of course. Not for some time – almost a decade already. The best I can hope for of my own accord are demonstration rounds, which have become remarkably common of late and carry a ubiquitous invitation for the sage 30-year-old with the long hair and giddy demeanor. Seriously. Giddy. I am just a different person in the debate world and it’s a huge part of what attracts me to it, year after year and weekend after weekend. So I’m getting my fix in, but honestly what excites me are the possibilities for my wards. Coaching debate has given me a new lease on an activity I’d long been missing, and earnestly given me a new lease on excitement in a year that has had every shot at killing me. Getting to drive fresh-faced youth discovering their own love of debate and its potential on the way to the same time-worn campus lecture halls I once traversed brings me a satisfaction like little else. It is the comfort of not only doing something fun and exciting, but of being in the right place at the right time. Being centered in the universe.
When the universe has seemingly turned its back on me, when I am leaving a home with my debate-reared and -discovered wife for the last Friday ever, it is this feeling of place and belonging that I crave most. And to add to it that I will be in a tab room, the epicenter of the collision between my love of rational argument and my penchant for statistics – it almost makes life feel worth living. That just for a morning or so, I can remember what it was like to be joyful, to have butterflies in the stomach for good reasons, to feel like all the future one needs is a weekend, a car, the company of like-minded friends.
Somebody throw me the keys.