It's been a rough couple of weeks for many, many college football fans of a certain revered and wonderful educational institution.
Something terrible and awful and absolutely evil happened in our state.
Good people have been hurt. Lives have been changed.
Wrongs need to be made right.
A way of life has changed.
Trusts are broken.
What's happened has begged all of us to go very deep.
Although I have found myself part of many conversations over the past two weeks involving this particular situation, I am not going to share my personal opinions on everything and everybody at this point.
But, I want to say something.....
We were never, ever fans of that particular football team at my house. My kids were never raised on loving that team. In fact, they were raised quite the opposite. We didn't teach them to hate that team. It was just a sports thing steeped in a long standing tradition of rivalry between two neighboring universities playing football.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
We didn't dislike that team because of what we felt they stood for or who they were as people. In fact, we didn't even know much about them in that regard. Their antics always made for good conversation and banter. My entire family--from my oldest uncle to my youngest cousin are fierce supporters of our "hometown college team"--where many of them as well as my own husband are alumni. It was always a joke that we didn't let anyone "marry outside"....
The other team was always a looming, larger-than-life force--supported and promoted by their league of adoring and steadfast alumni and friends. Their devotees would fill their stadium--traveling miles and miles, over big mountains, dipping down into huge valleys to it's idyllic setting in the happy hills of central Pennsylvania--even on the most frigid of winter days when the snow made it almost impossible to see the treacherous road ahead. Yet, they came in throngs for every home game, for every big event--no matter what the time or temperature. The devotion of their fans, their students and their alumni had an almost religious aspect to it. There was a power and a passion to their conviction. It was widely known that once you were a fan, you were always a fan. You would spend your life working your vacations, your big events and everything in between around the happenings in that happy valley. You would never forget the chant or the alma mater. You were........(that school)......
Sometimes I wondered if the scorn that many non-fans felt towards them was fed by the rabid, almost maniacal adoration and support of their fan base that many non-fan folks considered cult-like. One was often left to wonder what was in the drinking water in the happy valley that they all considered their mecca, their home base.
What brought about all that love and devotion to a place nestled in the center of Pennsylvania--within 3 hours of any thriving metropolis?
I always sensed that the devotees' love and spirit was fueled more by pride and experience and heartfelt memories than from drinking the local water. We all know how deep our love and our emotions are when it comes to those magical places in our lives where we met wonderful people, explored our interests, broadened our horizons, laughed till we cried......
It gives you a deep sense of love and pride in a place that gave you so much.
My heart goes out these devoted people--seeing something they love so deeply so shattered by something so, so horrible.
About four years ago, I had my very first opportunity to travel the roads to this magical land. I didn't go for a football game, I didn't go for a sporting event and I didn't even go to attend their very popular summer art event. I was not going to see what the place was all about and I had no intention of falling in love with the town. I was making the trip with a heavy heart. I was moving my son there to take a position as a researcher and to enter into PhDland.
As I traveling the godforsaken, barren landscape--where I could see not a mall in sight, I found myself wondering what the hell could be so lovely, so worthy of so much love, about a place out in the middle of nowhere. Then, after 3 hours of traveling--there I found it-- sprawled out amongst the valley was a glorious post card--as if a lovely town just sprouted up amongst the trees and the rolling hills. It was downright awe inspiring. A beautiful site after miles and miles of nothingness.
Four years later, I get what all the adoration of that lovely town is all about. I could imagine spending four wonderful years there among the splendor and beauty that is that town. I'm now addicted to their Chico's store. I think they have one of the best gourmet pizza places in all the land. And, I think the townsfolk are some of the most genuine, serene, welcoming people I ever met. Their mall--although not huge--is not all that bad either. I have never watched a football game but I have spent some time in the bars. I've overlooked the main street, perched at a window seat, devouring one of the best she-crabs soups I have ever had. I never wore an article of clothing sporting the university's name but I have become quite fond of the wines at the little winery way back in the woods.
That little town is much more than football.
The University that fuels that little town is much more than football.
What has happened there is unimaginable.
Heartbreaking. Unforgivable. Unbelievable.
That little town is fighting for it's life.
Everyone's heart has broken.
They live among the devastation and the ruin.
It's a deep, deep hurt and pain.
It's a wound that's bleeding.
We all have to go deep to remember that among all the awful, horrible terribleness is a lovely little town, charitable, kind people, a great University, a talented faculty, a dedicated staff and 97,000 students who are finding their way in life.
It's an education for all of them.
And they are just starting the journey.
It's all very deep.