Connecting with the world, one goal at a time

IT surprised me how special the World Cup felt, and how much I miss it now that it's over. Unlike the Olympics, the World Cup only happens every four years, just like presidential elections and leap years.

Who thought we'd pay more attention to the Winter Olympics if they got their own year? Yeah, and Congressional midterms have really taken off.

We watched some games at work. Video games and sports prove a good way to bond with the interns. Isn't it funny how some people only open up if you're not looking at each other?

Perhaps sports bows only to booze as a social lubricant.

I work with engineers; one read an article on the economics of penalty kicks, but they otherwise sounded like sports fans anywhere else. One would show surprise at France beating Brazil, and another would rush to correct his assumptions.

Even inexperienced fans can quickly join soccer fun. I cheered at goals and booed at injury faking.

Now the Cup is over, and we're back to filling whiteboards with architecture and arguments. I watched part of a whiteboard discussion a few days ago as a torrential storm started. Under the squiggles and diagrams my colleagues made lay the nearly-erased ghosts of old explanations, formulae and doodles. I can't make any of them out now.

The clear window next to me started popping with the force of individual raindrops. Each one left a small diagonal line on the glass, a few gray droplets to remember each collision.

In just a few minutes, the bits of gray ceased to convey any information, because each one was identical and together they coated the window and its neighbors.

I doubt the best NSA spook could have deciphered the order of their arrival.

On the day of the Cup final, I started watching the game at home, trying to feel connected to the billion folks watching around the world, but I stopped that foolishness once the game went into overtime.

Like Batman says in "Batman Begins": "It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me."

I watched the end of the game at a crowded cafe near my house, where the crowd ran very pro-Italian but gave good sporting cheers to French goals, too.

I liked making small talk with the strangers. The universal language of the attempted goal is up there with music and sex.

Soccer can incur the destructive kind of nationalism it does overseas only because almost every nation plays on that common battlefield.

I didn't root for either side, just for great plays.

"I'm rooting for competence," I told the guy sitting next to me. I am American, after all.

The pro-Italian folks celebrated for a minute after that winning Italian goal, and folks rode around in cars honking and waving Italian flags.

But no one broke out into song, and I didn't hear anyone speaking Italian.

And the guy sitting on my other side, a man who spent 10 years of his life in France and just got back from a visit to Paris, may still be mourning. I found it lopsided.

I went to the cafe for the Cup final for the same reason I read the news and look at maps and go to meetings and church.

I'm trying to make connections, to get the big picture into my head. That French guy rooted for his team so hard that food was ashes in his mouth after the loss.

What do I miss by staying disconnected from his experience?

Whether patriotism or apathy, it's so easy to get caught in a rut. It's so easy for me to adopt lazy thinking and self-destructive habits, forgetting that each repetition is like a raindrop on the windowpane, a scrawl on the whiteboard. And that's charitable.

Bigotry, censorship and forgetting narrow our vision, keep us from making sense of the universe. If I don't catch myself, the rain turns acid, the marker turns permanent.

But stained glass can be beautiful. That's another reason for church.

I liked being an Asian American in a Greek/Latino/Middle-Eastern neighborhood of New York, watching a French player of African descent exhale and shake off his nervousness as he began a run up to his penalty kick.

It felt special, not just because it only happens every four years.

It felt special because the world felt small, the way I try to remember it is.

Sumana Harihareswara writes for Bay Area Living each week. You can write to her at