The day dawns clear, bright, crisp. Autumn crimsons, burnt golds, harvest siennas, deep mauves, peaches. Seeping gloriously into maples’ bold emeralds. Surrounding the greenest of green fields. Azure sky, cloudless and stretching. Seemingly into forever. And summer becomes a memory all too quickly.
In this moment, proud Moms and Dads wield camcorders and thermos cups; chat with neighbors; cluster along white painted field lines. Huddle under a throw as the afternoon turns shady, chilly. Inside those lines are cleated, shin-guarded legs, uniformed little bodies darting, kicking, blocking, cheering, encouraging, trying.
Whistles blow, teammate camaraderie abounds. And all of this within the shadow of the luminous cross. Yes, enveloped by poison ivy but still beautiful, at field’s center and seeming to guard.
We gather for the weekly ritual of Opening Prayer and National Anthem. But what does it mean? Perfunctorily reciting prayers known since toddlerhood while adjusting shin guards; committing coach’s words of advice to memory; gearing up to face opponents, friendly competition though it is. Anthem words which are often, shamefully we must admit, uttered quickly and almost as an intrusion to our routines!
What it means will quickly become all too evident. What it means is the balance of the day, the month, our lives, while planned to flow unchallenged, could instantly shatter. As if we author our own destinies.
Yet, sometimes something does happen to shatter the routine, the beauty of our lives. As it did on this day. The beauty was shaken. The planned. For, not far from this happy bubble of safety and beauty, of life: a child of God, living his plan, needed our field.
Perhaps he was on his way to a family event. Perhaps he was alone in the car. Or with his spouse. Or his children.
Perhaps he left the house in a haze of angrily uttered words to his loved ones, which he grew to regret as he drove. Or perhaps he left and the last sight of his home were smiling, happy faces, waving, calling, Don’t be too long.
Perhaps he realized how blessed is his life. And perhaps he even thanked God for this goodness.
Perhaps he headed for a lengthy business trip or not. Perhaps, simply a quick run to the grocery store.
Perhaps he was preoccupied with good news or bad, recently received.
Whatever his circumstances, on this breathtaking, full, autumn day, he did not arrive at his destination. He did not plan to go to the soccer field on this day. He had no offspring, no nieces, nephews playing there.
But, he found himself on our field. On a stretcher. Rerouted there by individuals desperate to save his life.
For, as we watched play, took pictures, and reveled in the beauty of now, suddenly, the beauty is broken. Roaring, exploding into our field’s lot were half a dozen emergency vehicles. We listened with puzzlement to anxious but organized commands of emergency workers who suddenly, authoritatively control the area. We vacated the field, gathered the children, wondered why? Why?
It soon becomes evident. We are the bystanders in someone’s nightmare. To the moment that will forever be the before and after line in a life. Possibly in several someone’s lives. This crisis mode of emergency vehicles. Unfathomable. How can this be rehearsed? This ebb and flow of tragedy? But we witness it all unfold.
Ambulance, as it races to field’s edge. Workers, who wait patiently for helicopter to appear, then finally landing center field. Paramedics, who rush to it with stretcher and disappear within. Copter now rising skyward, circling and heading to the wild blue unseen. Those remaining on the ground continue to orchestrate officially and to calm.
It all happens in a flash. And yet, slowly, ever so slowly, those of us who watch and are rendered helpless become silent no more. For my little ones begin with cries of, “Wow, a helicopter on the field; that’s so cool,” which gradually become whispers of, “Wow, I hope he isn’t hurt too badly.”
Perhaps it’s a veritable lifetime, first with one ill parent and then with another. And the familiarity with ambulances. Years of memories flashing. I am five; I am sixteen; I am twenty-eight; I am forty-four. It seems the faces of the doctors, the drivers, the EMTs have not changed. Determination. Dexterity. Skill.
Or, perhaps it’s coming face to face with reality. This is so not the plan of this injured child of our Lord. Being helpless, injured, broken. To not say Goodbye. To not say I love you. One last time. To Somebody.
Perhaps because of this, this reality, I say, a little too harshly, Stop It. This is not a show. This is someone’s life.
I know, my children say, a little ashamed.
And I am shaken and I hug them. Before even realizing it, I begin uttering those familiar words that are repeated rote. Again and again. But this time, there is meaning. My younger son picks up the cadence; then my older son; then a child or two scattered near us. Then three, then six, then fourteen, then two dozen. Then coaches and parents and then even an emergency worker or two. Even those for whom brokenness and misfortune are part of life.
After the second Hail Mary, my son blurts, “Mom, let’s say the whole rosary. Please? Not just a Hail Mary or two. At least a decade for this man on the stretcher. He needs it. More than we need to play soccer.”
And so we continue. Through the first decade and into the second and before we know it, Mysteries are announced and my children take turns leading and others fall into the rhythm and follow and repeat and recite and feel it.
Gradually, some wander away and we get the all clear. Whistles alert us to the reason we are here. The game.
Or is it?
Today, we come together for love of the game, for friendly competition, for sportsmanship. We find more. Today, we find much more.
Not simply the strength to overcome our fear at the unknown, which is sometimes what we ask of the Lord. We are not just individuals leading our lives, following those checklists, mumbling a rote Glory Be or Lord’s Prayer at game opening, at end of day, at prayer time. We are a community of warriors. Prayer warriors. When one of us falls, God offers strength. Strength of each other. And lest we forget, we see the face of Christ in each other. Visible. Obvious. Oh, not always. Sure; sometimes, we have to look. Hard. But we are blessed. Because we find it. All the time. The face of Christ is there.
Even at our worst. Even when we think we don’t deserve it. Even when we think others cannot find it in us.
For we have the power. Our Father runs the world and we are His people. Every one of us.
Copyright 2010 Christine Capolino