I meant to avoid my problems, to give my weary emotions a break, so I gathered the children and turned on the football game. I live too far from Boone Pickens Stadium to drag the boys there on game days, but I sat them on the couch and reminded them to wave an arm each time we scored — a tradition almost as old as the state of Oklahoma.
I settled in and tried to forget, for just a couple of hours, that my friend and her two tiny sons were scared. That her husband had a brain tumor so large that he went directly from the MRI to the emergency room. That there would be surgery. Dangerous surgery.
I pushed aside the fact that another friend’s brother was in intensive care. His fate uncertain. I sat down the wounds of my own that I was carrying, wounds that weren’t physical but that still bled, and I turned my attention to the sport I’ve been watching since before I was a week old.
First down. Second down. Then, a young man in orange caught the ball, broke away from the opposing team and raced toward the end zone, half a field away. But before he had taken many steps, he was surrounded by other men in orange whose only job was to take the hit for him. If anyone was going to fall, it would be one of those men first.
They didn’t stop to discuss where he should go or what path would be best. They didn’t check their calendars. They didn’t decide to take the ball and give it to a faster runner. They followed him and they covered him.
And when the one who carried the weight and the responsibility of the ball made it across the line, they all celebrated.
I stood and waved my arm as the band played, and I cried at what I’d seen thousands of times before and only noticed once.
We all need people to surround us, to pray down heaven when we’re too weak or discouraged to do it for ourselves. We need people to make meals, to show up and mow the grass and answer the thousandth text message.
We need people to take the hit so we can move the ball down the field.
But none of that happens unless we understand that every time our cleats hit the turf we all risk getting tackled. The quarterback. The center. The linebacker. The businesswoman. The husband. The farmer. The teacher. The sister.
People are playing some of the biggest games of their lives, and this game isn’t meant to be played alone.
Maybe I can stand up for your integrity when others try to tear you down. Maybe I can meet you at the hospital. Maybe I can pay your rent while you find work. And we can celebrate together when we cross into the end zone.
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