I met Daniel Motalebian at a soccer pitch in Coquitlam for the first time on a dark Wednesday evening. He strode towards the team, holding a pair of cleats in his right hand and car keys in the other. I heard murmuring around me as he approached, and his silhouette became clear. “Is that Daniel?” “That’s definitely Daniel…” “My guy!”  

His smile gleamed as he shook hands with friends and teammates. He moved through the group, shoulders relaxed. He was taller than most, six feet and lean. His appearance was still boyish but there was maturity in his defined facial features and buzz cut hair. 

Daniel and I bonded over our love for soccer. He shared his struggles both personal and in sports. He was easy to talk to, his hand gestures and expressions inviting. A few things stood out to me about his past, his seemingly effortless confidence and his compassionate nature. 

I greeted Daniel outside of Burnaby Central like good friends would. We did our handshake in the parking lot which consisted of two snaps and locking ring fingers. His sweater suited him. Blue and yellow in a Where’s Waldo pattern. His jeans fit him well along with black Nike blazers. He completed the look with an army green rain jacket. He quickly ushered me inside, out of the cool October air. 

“This school is only 6 years old,” Daniel said as I admired the high ceilings and large windows. I hadn’t expected it to be so well designed. “They clean it 3 times a day,” he explained, taking me down another hallway, “Which is way more than most schools. Some schools are cleaned only once a week.”  

We found a place to sit in the common area; which was a wide-open space across from the cafeteria with a twenty-foot vaulted ceiling. We sat perpendicular to each other with my phone on the ground between us, recording the interview.  

“So, Daniel, tell me a little bit about yourself,” I asked. 

“I am 18 years old. I play soccer. I go to the gym, and I work with my dad.” 

“And where are you from?” 

“I’m born and raised here. Family’s from Russia.” 

I asked Daniel to tell me more about his family history, focusing on the important pieces of his background. 

“The important parts are my family came from Russia. They were born and raised there. There are a lot of cultural differences. And when people think of Russia, they think of Putin directly. But the sad part is, it’s not. Like ninety-nine percent of the people there don’t even care about him. It’s just he has power, and no one can do anything about it.” 

Daniel once mentioned he learned five languages during his childhood. I asked him to explain how that became his reality. 

“I wasn’t here for seven years,” Daniel pointed out that he’d been traveling for a long time before his family settled down in Canada. “I went to different countries. In the Middle East I went back home, I went to France, you know. I even went to Montreal. I wasn’t here for a long time and my dad, when he used to live in Japan for twenty years, I was even there. All that, it added up to a multitude of languages.” 

Daniel expressed his disinterest in traveling and how his father was the initiator of that lifestyle. “It sucked,” he said, reliving the experience. 

Out of all of Daniel’s travels, Germany was the most interesting place he’d been to. The soccer was enjoyable, and he appreciated Germany’s different style of play. 

“Would you say soccer has taken you various places, or do you hope it will?” I asked, wanting to uncover Daniel’s hopes and dreams for the game he loves so much. 

“I don’t really care about money. Screw the money. I don’t even care about becoming a professional, I just want to play. It’s like this; if you care about the destination of your walk, you’re never going to enjoy it. But if you enjoy the journey to that destination, you’ll enjoy it.”  

I thought about what Daniel said and wondered how it applied to his own life. From all his travels, did he ever wonder what the destination was? Or was he satisfied in seeing where his life took him? If we focus too much on the end goal, we lose ourselves to an unknown. The present moment becomes an obstacle between us and our destination. But the present is all we ever truly have.  

“I care about enjoying it, not the destination,” he says, “It’s not about the final results, only how I’m going to enjoy the process.” 

A teacher walked out of a doorway to our left. She noticed Daniel sitting on the floor and stopped, turning towards us. Mid-sentence, Daniel put a finger to his mouth signaling for her to remain quiet and pointed to my phone. She made an O shape with her mouth and smiled at Daniel. 

“No no, it’s okay,” I said, picking up my phone and pausing the recording.

The teacher’s voice was bright and enthusiastic when she said, “Hey Daniel!” She grabbed his hand as he greeted her from the floor. Holding onto his hand, she asked what we were doing. I told her I was working on an interview assignment and chose Daniel to work with. She was hesitant at first, unsure. Then her expression changed to one of gratitude. She told me I made the best choice and I agreed. Her love for Daniel was apparent in her smile. 

I carried on with the interview, asking Daniel about what communication means to him and if he’s ever struggled with it. 

Communicating is “easier said than done” in Daniel’s words. He shares one of his experiences with a coach when he was twelve that uncovers the frustrations of miscommunication or lack thereof. 

“This was a very bad league; it wasn’t a good league. It was called a summer league for this team, SBM; South Burnaby Metro Club. It was such such such a bad experience. I played zero minutes almost every game. And in the last game I played, I scored two goals in the last five minutes. And people thought that I was crazy, that I shouldn’t even leave [the team], but I did.” Daniel talks about how leaving an environment that drew the worst out of him, made him a happier and more whole person. Later, Daniel versed SBM and beat them 4-0.  

The common area started to fill with students. Daniel and I took our conversation outside where we walked on a track that looped around a turf field.  

“If you could change the world, would you and how?” I asked, fully knowing there was no one or simple answer. 

“The thing is; you will never change the world. It is impossible. You can’t. You know why? See those people?” Daniel gestured towards a P.E. class, “Every single one of those people will have a different answer and opinion on everything they see. See this soccer field? I think it’s a soccer field, but some people think it’s an American football field. Some people think those nets are useless. Some people think these yellow lines or white lines are pointless. Some people will even think that this field shouldn’t exist.” 

I looked out across the track and field, questioning my perception of the world and how it might differ from Daniel’s. How it might differ from my friends and family and every other person in the world. If our innate differences in perception of the material world is the reason why we can’t change it, where is the hope? Where is our saving grace? Maybe through empathy, kindness and conversations like those I was having with Daniel today would bring us out of the darkness and into the light.  

“If someone is enforcing change, that change is being forced. Many people won’t agree with it,” He continued. 

I asked Daniel how he has learned to live in a world that can’t be changed and he replied with, “I just don’t care what people say or think or do. I just don’t care.” 

Finally, I asked Daniel my last question, “If you were a pie, what kind of pie would you be?” 

“Is there a chocolate pie?” 

“Yes! Why chocolate pie?” I asked. 

“It’s chocolate. It’s delicious, it’s delightful, it’s life.” 

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