Bowling in the afterlife

David Bartal, writing in Sweden, reflects on the healing power of bowling.

Just a few days before I was to undergo a major life-threatening operation in a Stockholm hospital last year, I did something odd. Together with my sister who was visiting from Los Angeles, a Swedish graphic designer, and a few journalist buddies, I decided to go bowling.

That may seem like a normal enough thing to do, but it was an extraordinary experience for me.

In the first place, I was so fragile because of my illness that walking up a short flight of stairs felt like I was trying to lift a freight train. Secondly, I hadn’t bowled since I was a teenager. But perhaps more significantly, I associated bowling with my tough father and his WW II generation.

My father was a working class guy, originally from Brooklyn, New York who finished his formal education at age 12. He did fairly well for himself after marrying late in life, and eventually owned and managed an industrial hardware store.

One of Dad’s main private pleasures was his regular night out with the boys bowling. I have therefore always associated bowling with my conservative father, and I didn’t get along with him.

The rift between father and son was as wide as the Pacific Ocean during adolescence, and caused me to leave home and live on the streets for a period during high school. In any event, bowling has never been my cup of tea. Not in the USA. Not in Sweden. Not anywhere.

But there I was in the spring of 2007, a mortally sick man trying on size 13 bowling shoes at a bowling hall in Åkeshov, which is located along the underground’s Green Line.

Those battered red leather shoes with their slippery soles felt surprisingly comfy on my feet. The sound of polished white pins hitting the hardwood lanes sounded like thunder in my ears.

None in my party had bowled in decades, so we performed like crap. I was mired in last place until the final two frames, when I miraculously scored two strikes in a row, allowing me to win over everyone, with a grand total of about 75 points.

This may sound like a trivial victory and nothing to brag about, but at that moment it felt important, as if I had challenged fate and won.

Read it all here.

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