From the Driver’s Side Window
We were all there. Team t-shirts, signs, banners, pom poms and noisemakers. We had lawn chairs for the old folks, blankets for the little ones and two entire rows in the bleachers. Conner’s uncle had even taken off from work early and driven in from Houston. Jakob, Conner’s best friend had a cheering section of his own. We made quite a crowd. This was a big game. Cameras and smartphones were poised to capture the moment.
That’s all it was though, “one brief shining moment.” When the offense took the field, my tall, lanky 7th grader lined up on the outside and assumed a three point stance. The quarter back took the snap, and looked downfield for a receiver. Conner was open!
We collectively held our breath and by some miracle, the ball landed square in Conner’s hands. He tucked the leather football against his midsection just like he had been taught and took off in the direction of the goal.
Boom! A monstrous, defensive tackle, much too big for middle school, I thought, crashed into Conner’s left side. The ball bounced out of my son’s grasp, tumbling for an eternity in the air and found the ready hands of an opposing player. The dirty rotten ball thief sprinted effortlessly sixty yards in the other direction for a touchdown. The whistle blew and a red-faced coach stomped in the dirt, threw up his hands and shouted “Veazey, get over here! Sit down and don’t move.”
That was it. It went downhill from there. The Sanderson Middle School Tigers endured a humiliating four quarters that evening and were handed a dismal loss. Their uniforms were muddy, their hair and faces soaked with sweat, their spirits broken. Beaten, they trudged back to the locker room in defeat and disappeared behind a slamming steel door.
When Conner emerged from the locker room, shoulders and head hung low, we, his very own cheering section, greeted him with hugs, pats on the back and assurances that he had tried his best and it was “just a game.” He wasn’t amused.
But then somebody suggested pizza. For middle schoolers, pizza is a kind of miracle drug. It’s a cure all, much like a cup of tea to the British. They put the kettle on. We go out for pizza. All would soon be right in Conner’s world again.
I think I was the only one who saw him at first. As I drove our packed mini-van out of the school parking lot, I noticed a small boy ambling up the sidewalk. Perhaps he appeared smaller because he was still wearing most of his uniform, over-sized jersey, grass stained pants, cleats, shin and hip guards. He carried his helmet in one hand and a large drawstring net bag in the other.
I wondered where he was going. Where was his cheering section?
“Do you know that boy Conner?” I asked.
“No, Mom. He’s new.”
“What’s his name?”
“I don’t know, Mom. He just moved here from California, I think. He’s kind of quiet.”
“Mom, don’t even think about it!” Katie cautioned. She was wise for her sixteen years and had read my mind. She knew me too well.
For a moment, just a moment, I considered pulling over and inviting the boy to go for pizza with us. But it’s a scary world we live in these days and we teach our children not to talk to strangers, let alone get in cars with people they don’t know.
So I resisted the temptation and tried to reassure myself.
Perhaps this kid was going home to a nice, home-cooked meal. Perhaps, his mother was working and his dad was out of town so he was staying with his grandmother who didn’t get out much anymore. Perhaps his dad would call from his hotel room and want a play by play account of the game. Perhaps his mom would get home just in time to check his homework and kiss him goodnight. Perhaps, he would take a hot shower while his uniform was washed, dried and folded nicely for the next game. Perhaps he would play a video game or fall asleep watching his favorite show. Perhaps he was safe, content and loved.
I’ll never know.
But it made me think. Some of us will always have a host of diehard fans on the sidelines, cheering us on in this game of life. Some of us know beyond a shadow of a doubt those fans will always be waiting patiently outside the door, win or lose, every single time. Some of us will share all our victories and all our defeats with people who love us even when we drop the ball. Some of us want for nothing. And some of us never walk home alone.
From my driver’s side window, God taught me GRATITUDE.
Gratitude for the people in my life.
Gratitude for unconditional love.
Gratitude for lessons learned.
Gratitude for wins and losses and start overs.
Gratitude for family.
Gratitude for friends.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”