Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Of sports and human nature

[Note; This is a former post.  I don't usually re-post things I wrote back when, but given how easy it is to get sucked into the negative this election year where behavior and fealty to political theory seem to be battling it out, I thought I'd re-post this one.  It's a reminder that us humans are both good and bad, and it brings back memories and an important lesson I learned that, every now and again, I need to remember]

One of my readers (and ahem, a frequent commenter, all you other readers out there), wrote this about the heartwarming Cornhusker story I posted a couple days ago:
Some days you wonder what God could possibly see that makes us worth saving.
Some days, you get an answer.
That's so true.  Mark Shea once said people are part angel, part alley cat.  He's right.  The story of Christianity is a story of sinful people created in the image of God, going through history within the Body of Christ in a fallen world.  And with that combination, anything can happen and it always does.  For better or worse.

The rest of humanity is there as well.  Doing good, doing bad, sometimes both.  Sports is a wonderful arena for this observation, since you can see both the pits and the heights of humanity.  In my pastor days, I used to use an illustration of two Ohio State Football games.

It's known that I'm a Buckeye fan, though my football fanaticism has diminished a bit since the University decided to screw the less well off alumni to make a buck.  Still, I follow the team. Back when my wife and I went each year (now I take one of the boys), we saw two examples of human nature, one good, one rather naughty.

The first case. The Horseshoe, OSU's football stadium, is one of the most iconic venues in all of sports.  You can't miss it.  Even when they renovated it, they had to do so around its basic design and original framework (they weren't going to, but the outcry convinced them).  Still, when they measured the seats, they couldn't have had anyone over the age of four as models.  Not only are they narrow, but the aisles in front of the seats would challenge a Hobbit's finesse.

Once my wife and I were there, in the South Stands (that's the area that closes 'the Shoe', usually stacked with alumni/students).  There was a group of boisterous  rather burly fellows about two rows in front of us. They were also, shall we say, opinionated about then coach John Cooper's abilities.  They weren't all together, they had come in separately  usually by twos (as most alumni tickets are only for two people).  But they made one pretty raw cheering section.  Not only did they look imposing, but their language was definitely not drawing room fashion, as Tolkien would put it.

So during the game, a young mother and her little girl were there.  They had gone to the concession stands while the game was going.  If you wait until halftime, it's not worth it because of the lines.  She had her hands full.  The little girl was in front, trying to get through the packed aisle.  As anyone knows, it's almost impossible.  Little girl that she was, she was stumbling about as her mother tried to encourage her along.  All of a sudden, one of the fellows, sporting a bright scarlet and gray jersey, reached down and grabbed the little girl.

He hoisted her up, and then handed her to the fellow sitting beside him.  That fellow grabbed her, whipped her around playfully, and handed her to the next fellow, a brawny cuss that didn't even come with him.  That fellow did the same, and on, and on.  All the way down the aisle the little girl was handed to the next fellow, as she increasingly laughed and giggled at the ride.   Though the fellows weren't even together, nor were they the types I'd want to cross in a dark alley, without being told they just fell into place and helped the mother and her little girl, much to the girl's delight.  I wonder if the little girl remembers that like I do.  Not only did it teach a lesson about judging people by outward appearances or behavior, it was a wonderful demonstration of a little cup of cold water, just a nice act of random kindness.

A couple years later, we were at the OSU vs. Penn State game.  Penn State was never a favorite team anyway.   We were in the north section, and relatively low since we'd been getting tickets for enough years to warrant better seats (that being before the great Alumni screwing).  Well, OSU was having its way with Penn State.  But even though the weather was chilled, and it was getting late, and there was no way short of God suiting up and running the ball for Penn State that we were going to lose, my wife and I stayed.

The stands were emptying out.  And we began inching our way closer to the field.  My Dad used to take me to OSU games when a friend would give him tickets.  But he never stayed.  He hated the traffic, and refused to stay the whole way through, so I suppose it's because of that I stay until well past the end of the game.  So stay we did.  It was getting on toward the end, and we were able to stretch out and actually relax a bit, due to the emptying seats.

And then, the sum of all football fears happened.  During one of the plays, a Penn State player went down.  And there he stayed.  He didn't move.  Whenever there is an injury in football for more than a few moments, things begin to hush.  And this got bad.  Minutes ticked away, and still he didn't move.  That's bad.  That's real bad.  Ten minutes passed and he hadn't moved.  An emergency vehicle was brought in and he stayed where he was.  We knew then that this was a worst case scenario.  The stadium, emptying out thought it was, still had tens of thousands of fans in the seats.  And you could hear a feather drop.  It's as if the entire place was holding its breath.

And then, almost out of nowhere, and cutting the air like a rusty knife, a lady sitting behind us I hadn't even noticed spoke up.  I was watching the field and didn't see her, but I heard her.  I can still hear her opening statement: "I know this will sound bad..."  I knew what she was about to say, without doubt.  And I said to myself 'dear Lord lady, don't say what I think you're going to say.'  But she did: "At least it happened to their team and not ours, we've had enough problems this year."

Folks who know me know I don't get pulled into arguments.  Despite sometimes hashing things out on the
blogosphere, I'm not inclined to get into big debates.  Perhaps it's true about the Internet, it's a place where we act in ways we wouldn't otherwise.  Even when people try to pull me in, I usually avoid arguments and keep my opinions to myself.  Unless I'm feeling mischievous, or, on rare occasion,  something is so cold, so devoid of goodness, that it demands a reaction.  And this was such a time.

I swung around and looked at her.  She was actually an older woman, though wearing her graying hair long, and dressed as she was, apparently it was a fact she wasn't ready to concede   She sat there with her husband, who said nothing.  I stared at her and she at me.  Then I said, "He's some mother's son."

Certain things, apparently, can strike a nerve.  And I guess my small statement struck a nerve.  She unloaded on me, informing me that she, too, was a mother.  Her husband said nothing.  I wanted to fire back and say that's why she should have kept her big, fat mouth shut, since she should understand the terror and unbelievable panic that the young man's parents were no doubt feeling.  But, again, I don't get pulled into things like that.  I said my part, and turned around to watch the events unfold.

But I've never forgotten that.  I can still remember the chill, the darkening skies, the hush in the stadium.  And I remember a woman who could only think about how it affected her precious sports team, even while the life of a young man slipped away in front of us.  Gladly, Adam Taliaferro didn't die, but survived.  He was paralyzed, and would undergo unending treatments and therapy before he was ever close to normal.  I'm happy to say that the story has had a better ending than we could have imagined that day, back on September 23, 2000.

Nonetheless, that lady didn't know it at the time, and chose to focus on the most superficial thing imaginable  while what really mattered - the life and health of a fellow human being - was in the balance.  And yet, I also remember that little girl, getting a free ride by a bunch of hulking, boisterous football fans who decided to do a small, kind thing for a young mother and her child.  Us humans are funny that way.  Just when you lose all hope, you see those still, small voices of God through the most insignificant acts that bring you completely around to remembering what we're here for.  Yes, there will be plenty of bad times, bad actions, evil deeds.  But if we're not careful, we may sometimes miss the small good deed in a weary world.  And that would be a shame.

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward."

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