My dad, brother and I talk most weeknights — Family Conference Call, I call it. Usually someone — not me — mentions some sporting event or game during the course of the conversation. Maybe unlike others in my family, I like sports for the Make-A-Wish Foundation wishes granted, funny commercials, half-time shows. I like sports because of the touchy-feely character development that occurs. I like sports for the times opposing players help each other up on the field. I like sports for the passion and energy and underdog stories- but I rarely follow sports. However, I grew-up on Tobacco Road (GO DUKE!) and know the intense passion fans have. I get it. But I just can’t keep up. Anyway, last Thursday night the conversation between the three of us sounded like this:
Brother: Are you guys watching this game right now??
Dad: Yeah! They’re incredible tonight!
Me: Oh, umm, is Duke playing? (Usually a safe bet this time of year.)
Brother: No, South Carolina. (A football school? Maybe a week-night football exhibition game. In January. They do that, right?)
Me: Ummm. Ehhh. What, er, what sport?
Me: South Carolina has a basketball team? (Mouthing to myself “WHAT?”)
Dad and Brother (laughing): Haha, yes!
Me: And they’re good? Do they go to NCAA? [Pause.] I was wondering why a football team would be playing in January…
You get the point. I had a hard time narrowing down the team, let alone the sport. Lucky for me, my dad and brother have learned I can’t keep up with too much sports talk so when I’m around we don’t stay there for too long. Bless them. Without my mom to talk with during games, I haven’t been able to hide behind conversation and snacks to preserve appearances of knowing much more than I actually do.
This is a theme we’ve had to work on before. Back in September, my dad, cousin and I went to Family Weekend at the University of South Carolina to visit my brother. We were just barely a month out from my mom passing away. As we walk to our seats in the stands, I remember that my favorite Chatty Cathy to pass the time with during the game is gone. Not only do I have to deal with the loss of my mom, I have to sit though a whole football game with nobody to gab with. This girl can’t catch a break.
We find our seats behind a family with young kids. We sit and after about 2 minutes I realize I’m going to need to work to stay engaged. I turn to my dad and ask if he could point out and teach me a few things during the game. For examples of where confusion might lie, I throw out words like safety, pic six and a few different positions. The football enthusiast agrees. As each team takes the field my dad hollers, “OKAY, EACH TEAM STARTS WITH 11 PEOPLE ON THE FIELD.” The kid in front of us looks up probably expecting a peer, and sees 25-year old me instead. “DAD! Not so loud,” I say as I elbow him.
Over the course of the game, I learn about the Red Zone, witness a safety, confidently identify a pic six. It’s BY FAR the most attention I’ve paid to a football game. I don’t remember who won. I’m sure it was South Carolina. They’re a Football School, after all.
Here’s the point: I learned to adapt. I learned that sporting events could be watched differently without sacrificing too much enjoyment (although, I think I’d rather chat and casually watch the game).
This is hardly a perfect analogy but stay with me. In the months since my mom left us, boy, have I been learning. I’ve learned lessons through experience and just plain going through it. Many lessons I’ve learned because I’ve had folks that learned the weight of grief long before I did, commit to walk with us. I’ve cried more in the last five months than I think I have in the last five years. I’ve had to learn to sit in vulnerability. I’ve had to learn that I can’t always be positive, or upbeat and as foreign as that feels, I’d rather be real and honest. I’ve learned that for me the most important things, aren’t actually things — people make my world go ’round.
I’ve learned to live with a void and a hole in my heart. Life is so imperfect. And in the imperfection, even then I’m learning. If life was perfect then we wouldn’t be wanting or missing or longing. The imperfection we are left with reveals that we need each other to fill in the voids and plug the holes. It means community and together is more important than ever in tough times. It means we stay together even when we would much rather pull away.
I think we’ll find that as we are woven together and dependent, the burden that does exist is just a little lighter. I think we also find that the power of community ever so slightly overpowers fear, sadness and pain. I’m learning to stay in the fight when I’d much rather run away and hide from this sad, dark world. Right as I turn to throw in the towel, light is revealed. Right as I start to walk back to the tailgate — hello, Bojangles — rather than watch a whole four hours of football, I learn that I can enjoy football although differently than ever before. Now, I can tell you who the tight-end is. I know what a safety is. I know that a play in the Red Zone is a big deal. I know this because I stayed in the fight. I stayed in the fight because I knew I was not alone in the fight as I stood with teachers and friends committed to seeing me though (just as I am with them).
In my imperfect world, the real love I have for my mom is revealed. In our imperfect society, we individually lean on each other to build a formidable group. We are the plugs in the bleeding artery. We are the pressure and bandage on a wound. Collectively, we aid in the healing. If we were perfect and did not need a drop more of knowledge, we’d miss the opportunity to need and rely on others. And just as is a crucial advantage for any sports team, we too have strength in numbers.
Whistling: Tonight, my dad and I were chatting on the phone. He said he’d watched the Steelers game earlier that day. I remembered seeing the game on earlier that day while at a friends’ house. I jumped in saying, “Oh, yeah. They played the Broncos today. I saw some of that game.” I blushed, did a quick, celebratory Tiger Woods uppercut and patted myself on the back. Seemingly impressed my dad said, “It was pretty cool to see the Steelers win.” I agreed. My dad, chuckled and said, “Em. The Broncos won that one.”
It’s a process, I guess.