This I believe…the Friday night lessons I learned each autumn of my youth molded me into the woman I am today. I can still smell the crisp night air: a fusion of popcorn, distant chimney smoke, and sweat. I can still hear the crunching hits as they happened close to me on the sideline, the cheerleaders’ voices echoing through the charged air, the roar of the crowd as fans clapped with gusto and stomped their feet feverishly on the metal bleachers like pistons in an engine. But mostly, I hear the booming words of my father…inspiring, encouraging, critiquing…coaching. Looking back, what I see is a football field that has served as the foundation on which I’ve built my life. I see a little girl inspired by the world around her.
My father was a high school football coach and I came of age on his sideline. I served his football teams in many prominent positions those formative years. I was a water-girl and a ball-girl. But the job I prized most was walking in his shadow and holding the cord to his headset – an important job requiring that I give all of myself and look sternly at football players twice my age for stepping on the cord and possibly jeopardizing my daddy’s communication with the all-knowing press box perched high above our heads. From that sideline and his side, I constructed my view of the world. A view steeped in determination, perseverance, and drive. A view that believes miracles can happen and that losses are imminent…but do not have to be debilitating. I learned to keep your head up after you lose and to look the other team members in the eye as you shook each of their hands after the game. I learned that character counts and that no matter how far you’re down…you never give in. I still remember my father’s speeches after the games; I would mimic the players as they knelt on one knee, listening intently and looking up into my daddy’s eyes – eyes that glistened with emotion, amplified by the glare of the stadium lights.
Through my angst-ridden early twenties, I searched externally for answers to life’s questions with no avail. When I finally searched within, I uncovered consciously what my soul had always known: my principles, my values, my mantra for life had been established many years before on my father’s football field through weekly lessons on endurance, exuberance, and pain. Those Friday night lessons enabled me to successfully deal with the death of my husband at 27 and the birth of my son two months later. Those Friday night lessons prepared me to be a successful single mom. Those Friday night lessons kept me motivated to finally earn my Undergraduate Degree – 11 years after first enrolling in college.
And now, as lazy summer days give way to crisp autumn nights, I think back to the smells, the sights, the sounds, and the emotional experiences that paved my path in this world…and I am forever grateful.
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