In the first place, it’s quite amazing that I, a true-born Brit raised on cricket, rugby, and English football (soccer), should be sitting here writing with enthusiasm about a typical American game. But when I married Richard, apart from marrying a military man, I also married a die-hard Cowboys fan. So it isn’t so strange that, by osmosis, I was drawn to American football and eventually became an "almost” die-hard Cowboys follower.
I say almost because I don’t quite have the depth of pure reverence that Richard has in his bones for the cowboys. I do not worry too much if for some reason we cannot watch the game on TV, whereas he will fret and do everything in his power to remedy this situation. When we do watch the game, even though I will get excited and shout along with the rest of them, I somehow lack that piece of fan-hood that gets me out of my seat in our living room, jumping up and down, ranting at a bad play or a bad call, or pacing the floor, like an expectant first time father, at crucial moments of the game.
Speaking of reverence, I will never forget that time when we drove up to Charlotte, North Carolina to watch the Cowboys play the Carolina Panthers. The game was played on Christmas Eve of 2005. Richard had arranged the hotel stay and tickets through a special group in Texas who follow the Cowboys wherever they play. We were actually staying at the same hotel as the team members.
I had never seen Richard so exited before then. He was literally like a kid in a toy store. Camera in hand, he hung around the reception area in the hopes of catching a glance, of being able to breathe the same air as one of his “Boys”. My daughter and I joined him at some point for this vigil just as a group of team members came through and graciously stopped for a few brief moments to acknowledge their fans. Richard had stars in his eyes and was totally elated at this experience.
We went out afterwards to have a meal, and on the way down in the elevator we found ourselves face to face with one of the players. I thought I was going to have to put a ball and chain on Richard’s leg to keep him anchored to the ground! As we retired for the night, I was already in bed and Richard turned off the light to come and join me. As he placed one knee on the mattress to climb into bed he hesitated a moment, raised his eyes to the ceiling, and reverently said, “The Cowboys are sleeping just above me.”
All this aside, there is nothing quite like going to a live football game, especially if it entails seeing your dedicated team. There is an energy that is quite unique, almost tangible, as you join the flow of fans from the parking lot to the stadium. There is a hum and a buzz, an expectancy in the air. The fans from the two teams usually engage in good natured bantering and teasing among themselves, yet below the surface there is an earnest seriousness to all such exchanges.
As we entered the stadium in Tampa a few weeks ago, just as we did in Charlotte back in 2005, we could feel the excitement mounting. Even I, an “osmosis fan” was ready for a good game. Cowboys fans travel well and we were surrounded by the white, blue and silver of our T-shirts and the symbolic Cowboys’ stars reined supreme. The smell of hotdogs permeated the air as groups of fans began chanting their team’s slogans in full-throated support.
Considering the amount of beer that is consumed at football games, the fans are pretty much well-behaved. Occasionally tempers, fuelled by the alcohol, spill out into semi-serious arguments. But for the most part these flare-ups are short lived. The focus is on the game and the enjoyment of being a fan and supporting your team.
The Tampa game was exciting – for us at least. The Cowboys were first to put points on the scoreboard, but then it was a back-and-forth score and both teams were fairly evenly matched. But towards the end of the third quarter and as the fourth quarter unfolded, the Boys took the upper hand and, cheered on by their faithful fans, they scored two touchdowns in quick succession and the Buccaneers’ fans began to leave the stadium in droves.
The sweet taste of a win always makes the enjoyment of the game so much greater. As we headed back to the hotel to load the bike for our ride home, we were aware of a sense of satisfaction, a joyfulness of heart, a contentment that we carried with us all the way back to Jacksonville. And our prayer of gratitude for a safe ride home also included a special thank-you to God for a good game and a Cowboys’ win!
Today we celebrated yet another funeral in my parish. I use the word celebrate because in the Catholic faith we chose to say a Mass of the Resurrection in celebration of the deceased being resurrected into new life with Christ.
I am a member of the Ministry of Consolation and so I find myself attending more funerals than the average person. As part of our ministry we prepare the church for viewing services and vigils which usually take place the day before the funeral Mass, and then for the Mass itself. We are on hand to greet family and friends of the deceased as they come to the services and to be of any assistance to them or the priest.
As I stood in the church narthex this morning greeting everyone, I noticed a mother and her son come in to join those already present. The young man carried himself with great care and dignity. He wore a uniform of sorts, some kind of cadet perhaps. His posture was perfect, and even though he walked with a slight limp, he carried himself “tall”. I found out later his name was Teddy.
In all the time they were in the narthex before Mass started he stood quietly by his mother’s side. Every once in a while they would look at each other and smile. I could not help but notice that it was more than just a smile. It was a communication. In that one act they seemed to speak volumes to each other.
Close by them stood another couple with a small girl of about three years old in a stroller. Teddy noticed the girl and stood staring at her as though mesmerized. After some moments, his mother touched him gently on the arm and he looked at her with a huge smile. He then turned his attention back to the girl for a few more moments before turning once more, the smile still upon his face, to gaze intently, lovingly into his mother’s eyes. Again I had the feeling of a long, silent communication between them.
It was time for Mass. We discreetly directed everyone into the church and Mass began. The ritual was beautiful, the songs and readings perfectly chosen for the occasion. Then came the moment for Communion and once again Teddy and his mother took front and center stage of my attention.
I had already received Communion and had just returned to my seat to pray when I looked up to see them returning down the aisle. As before, I noticed how tall and straight Teddy walked. His mother walked beside him and, with one hand resting lightly in the center of his back, seemed to gently guide him. But more than guiding, it appeared to be a sign of reassurance.
It seemed to me that Teddy was totally focused in the moment. He had just received Communion and his hands were folded in front of him in a gesture of quiet reverence. Yet as they walked together I noticed that with a slight movement of his head he seemed to keep his mother in his peripheral vision.
Once back in their pew, they knelt side by side. It looked as though it was difficult for Teddy to kneel, perhaps something to do with that limp. Then he slightly turned his head to his mother and waited. I don’t know how I knew he was waiting, nor did I know what he was waiting for. As I watched, his mother leaned in to him and brought her lips to his cheek in close proximity to his ear.
As if on cue, Teddy inclined his head just fractionally in her direction and she began to speak to him. In that moment I thought that perhaps she was saying some prayers for him, or perhaps suggesting some prayers that he might like to say. No matter what, the moment was precious, just utterly precious, and I felt humbled to have been part of a very intimate act between them.
What made this Mother’s and son’s love so precious and special? Teddy is a Downs Syndrome child. He is now twenty six years old. The unconditional love that flowed so freely between them was palpable. I felt privileged to see the warm compassion that this mother showed her special child. As I was allowed into their space and allowed to share their beautiful relationship,I felt as though I been given a priceless gift.