I just finished watching a NFL Network biography on Tom Coughlin. He is personally my favorite coach in the NFL. (I also like retired coaches Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Mike Ditka, but that’s for another conversation). I wouldn’t call myself a sports junkie or even a junkie for football, but rather, a NFL kind of girl.
Last week I went on a business trip to Charlotte, North Carolina. The day before I left, I marked the latest win and game score on the season schedule I have printed out for my favorite football team. As the youngest of my siblings and the only girl, I grew up around all things sports and some of my earliest childhood memories are of being dragged to my brother’s high school football games and then having to re-watch the games on video tapes at home. When I was 13, I randomly decided to have a Super Bowl party at my house for the 1991 game between the NY Giants and the Buffalo Bills. I didn’t follow the Giants closely beforehand, but they are one of the home teams from where I grew up, so I rooted for them to win. Win they did by one point and my friends and I celebrated by running onto my porch, dancing and making a lot of noise. I have never forgotten that moment. I think that’s when I decided the Giants were my favorite team. Admittedly, because I did not follow football closely since that 1991 game, I had a tendency to support the teams of guys I dated over the years. However, when my son was born five years ago, I honestly felt an obligation to pay more attention to sports. I started watching ESPN’s “Sports Center” and chose to get better acquainted with football, as I understood it the most from watching my brother play. I’m also a fall baby, so the sport is a natural fit for me. I knew which team would have my full support and I have been an avid and loyal fan of the Giants ever since.
But back to last week’s business trip. As I was marking the game win and score on the Giants’ schedule, I noticed the next opponents were the Carolina Panthers and the game was being held in Charlotte. In addition to loving my team, I also love all things live events and immediately thought I should purchase a ticket to the game since I would be in Charlotte at the same time. Then I started having second thoughts; mainly, as a woman and in a city that isn’t home, I shouldn’t go to the game by myself. I decided against it after a while but as that Sunday night’s game played, I started looking at tickets and consulted my Facebook community about prices. A friend who lives in Charlotte responded and eagerly offered that no matter the price, there wasn’t a bad seat in the stadium. After reading that comment, I found a ticket that was priced right up my alley and made a final decision to go to the game. I excitedly packed my favorite Giants sweatshirt amongst my business clothes and headed off for a week in Charlotte.
The day of the game arrived and the weather in Charlotte was beautiful. All I had to do was make it until 5 PM and then it would be time to get ready to cheer on my team. I’d struggled some more with the reservation of going alone, but I was able to reassure myself that I would be just fine. I also felt pretty under the weather that particular day, but I pushed through, got some rest and willed myself to feel better for the game. By time I pulled up to the stadium area, I hit a better stride and immediately began feeling the electricity of fan excitement. It seemed like there were tons of Giants fans everywhere, certainly more than I imagined. I put on my sweatshirt with confidence and made my way through the crowd. Pretty soon I felt comfortable enough to do a Facebook check-in and share my own excitement via status updates. As I walked into the stadium, I immediately felt proud of myself…for supporting my team, for pushing through not feeling so great, for moving beyond the fear of going to the game alone.
I attended a Coldplay concert earlier this summer with a dear friend who has a fear of heights. The tickets were pretty high up, but okay for me personally. She had me go to guest services with her, and I watched as she explained her fear and requested any lower level seats if they were available. Wouldn’t you know we got those seats? I was actually quite fascinated by this and I always appreciate learning something new. My ticket for the game was definitely in the higher up seats and I would consider this when I had the reservations about going alone. I thought about my friend’s request at the concert and figured I might give it a shot, but only after checking out the seat I paid for first. It was high, but not as high as I thought it would be and my Facebook friend was right, there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house. So there I was, settled in with some popcorn and Gatorade and taking pictures of the field with my Blackberry. I was ready to support my team. I felt like a true fan.
No sooner than the game got started, did two guys walk up to the seats next to mine. One of them had on a Giants jersey and sat right next to me. This was all the encouragement I needed. “Giants fans, huh?!” I said and told them I was happy to be in such great company. We ended up chatting and loudly cheering throughout the whole game. The Giants won 36-7, completing the worthwhile feeling of the overall experience. My seatmates told me they were quite impressed I came to the game alone, which gave me more pride in myself. We are now Facebook friends and I look forward to having a bigger fan base to support my team with.
As I flew home the next night, I thought about my week. There were other experiences in addition to the Giants game, but that certainly took the cake. I considered the thought process of immediately wanting to go when I realized the timing of the game, then second-guessing myself for fear of going alone to the game, then overcoming second-guessing myself, which resulted in me thoroughly enjoying the game. That’s when I had an “aha” moment and the experience of going to the game became about something bigger. I realized I was becoming my own friend. I enjoy football. I enjoy live events. I enjoy meeting new people. So I took myself out to a live football game and ended up meeting some really cool people. It became a bucket list item I didn’t even know I had. And I was happy to check it off.
After the Tom Coughlin bio ended, a replay of the last Sunday Night Football game came on. In the past, I would have changed the channel, most likely to catch up on one of my guilty-pleasure reality shows. This was the game I was watching when I finally decided to buy my ticket for the Giants game in Charlotte. Even though I saw it already, I am actually enjoying watching it again and I plan to watch the “Sounds of the NFL” show that will immediately follow after.
When I get into my car to drive to work, the radio will likely be on ESPN. Earlier this week, I had ESPN radio on all day via their website and listened in as the various show hosts discussed the controversy of bad referee calls from the game the night before. Sometimes I pause and ask myself when did I become this girl. Then I smile and think, whoever she is, I am really enjoying becoming her friend.
Here’s to a great 2012 NFL season currently being reigned by the Super Bowl winning NY Football Giants. #NYG
I read a heartbreaking news story yesterday about an 18 year-old young man who was killed while walking to school earlier this week( see story here ). According to family and school officials, he was a beloved student who was on the honor roll, involved in track, ROTC and his school modeling club. In the words of his school principal: “This is a young man who deserved to live.” Sadly, this is one of many stories that occur in many cities; some we hear about and others we don’t. Every story touches me in a way, but there was something about this most recent one that really spoke to my heart and makes me think more and more about a dream I’ve had. How does the senseless murder of a young man tie into a dream? Well, let me explain…
As life would have it, I was born during the same year as my first-born nephew. For the purpose of this particular blog, I won’t get into the math, but he, in fact, was born 5 months before I was born. I have a small group of friends who became aunts and uncles when they were kids and we all often tease about having had nephews or nieces while we were in middle school. We try to one up each other, but I always win with “Hey, I was BORN an aunt!” Being that we were born during the same year, my nephew and I grew up together more as first cousins or even brother and sister than we were aunt and nephew. We went to the same schools, had the same friends and took family trips together. And just like any brother growing up, he teased me mercilessly and loved to poke at my sensitive nature. He was definitely the comedian of our family. However, when we reached our teenage years, our paths began to diverge. I was becoming more into school and teenage girl stuff and like many young men his age, he wanted to hang out with the older boys and sometimes found himself in situations that he didn’t need to be in. Ultimately, he moved from the town where we grew up and started a new life with his mother in a new city. The hope was that the move would be beneficial for him.
After he moved, my nephew and I didn’t see each other as much. The city where he lived was some 3 hours away from our hometown, but we always kept in touch and I always knew that I’d see him at some point in time. He still found himself caught up in some not-so-great situations, but we all knew he’d find his way eventually. Just before my nephew’s 18th birthday, he had a son. And that was when he decided to find his way. At the time, there was the general disappointment of dealing with teen parenting, but we had no idea that his son would turn out to be one of the greatest blessings for our family. My mom had gone to visit my nephew and the new baby when he was just about 3 months old. I didn’t go on the trip, but my mother called me while visiting and my nephew told me that he was looking forward to building a good life for himself and his son. He told me he loved me and that he couldn’t wait to see me soon. I told him I loved him in return and was definitely looking forward to the visit.
A few weeks later, the next phone call I received about my nephew was from a family friend telling me that he had been shot and killed. He was 18, just like the young man in the news story, and although he wasn’t on his way to school, he was on his way to the bank to establish a savings account for his son, followed by an appointment with the Job Corps. At the time, I was 17. I was about 2 weeks off from starting college and 2 months away from also turning 18. In the town where we grew up, drive-by killings didn’t happen, so I had no idea how to wrap my arms around this one. My stepfather had died less than a month before and that was my first experience of death. I didn’t know how I was going to deal with a senseless murder, much less the murder of a family member who was the same age as me. My eldest brother who was my nephew’s father knew of course, but my other brothers, our mom and my nephew’s and my friends had no idea…and I was the one who had to tell them all. During the days and weeks following my nephew’s murder, I remember wondering if I would still feel the pain when I was 30 years-old. I am now almost 35 and yes, I still do. Losing my nephew has left a void in our family that will never be filled. Although we do talk about him and laugh fondly at the memory of his childhood antics, it is not something that we discuss often. It’s not for the sake of not honoring his memory; it is honestly just still too painful at times.
When I left for college, I knew that my nephew’s death had impacted me in a major way. Outside of simply learning how to live with the loss, it would be a matter of time before I would figure out how to really deal with it. I chose Criminal Justice as my major and after taking a Juvenile Justice course and a course on Urban Minorities and Crime, I began to dream of having a community center where young people would have a safe space to thrive and grow. The statistics I had learned about young people not having such a place where they can learn about making positive choices, made me wonder if life would have been different if my nephew had such a place to go to. I wanted to open this center so that one less family would suffer what my family has had to suffer. I wanted to do something in honor of my nephew’s life. I have held on to this dream every day since.
After graduating college, I moved to the DC metro area to pursue my Master’s degree and ended up working in the housing finance field. While my dream was still present, it wasn’t becoming the reality I wanted it to be and I began to accept that perhaps it would be a dream deferred. But this summer I was off work for two months as a result of a bad car accident and I took that time to have some real conversations with my “self.” It was during this time that a friend asked me about what had happened to my dream and I knew this was an “Aha” moment for me. As you can see from previous blog postings, a common thread has been my search for what I call my “free.” Amongst many other “perfects,” I have been searching for the perfect career and have met with frustration time and time again at not being able to figure out what that career is. When the question was posed to me about my dream, this became a moment of awakening and I knew the time had come to take my dream off the back burner and do something about it. Since then, I have received signs of confirmation from the Universe that this is the direction in which I need to head. These signs might have been completely insignificant to me even just a year ago and I am grateful I am able to recognize them now. This tells me the Universe feels I am ready to accept this great task. While it is an overall amazing feeling, it is also quite scary. My mind is shifting from one way of thinking and the process of the shift is mighty uncomfortable. But I continue to think of my nephew, his son, my brother as his father, our family and all of the young people who have been lost to senseless acts of violence and I know this is a mission I must complete. So when I learned about the 18 year-old student killed on his way to school, it definitely spoke to me. I was at work when I read the story. I closed my office door and allowed myself to shed tears over the loss of this young man’s life. While my dream is still currently just that, a dream, it now also feels like a responsibility I must fulfill. I know of the pain that young man’s family is experiencing and I know it is a pain that will never go away. You just learn to live with it. For all these reasons and more, I must see my dream of having a community center come to fruition.
In the book, “The Alchemist,” author Paulo Coelho interweaves a lesson of finding ourselves by going back to where we started. This was part of the “Aha” of the moment I had this summer when my friend asked about my dream. I knew right away that with all the searching I was doing, I had to go back to the beginning. It was in the beginning where my nephew and I were two peas in a pod. When we lost my nephew, I was just starting my life, which was another beginning. Now it is just me in that pod. And I have made a vow to do all I can to keep my nephew’s memory alive.
I love you, nephew. I will always reminisce over you.
Peace and Love.
I am one of those people who can love really hard. Not just any and every person, as I do have my discerning moments, but in my friendships and love relationships, I have a tendency to wrap others tightly in what my therapist calls my “love blanket.”
We are all shaped by our life experiences. Just like everyone else, I’ve had tough moments that I had to learn from and I’ve had great moments that reinforced my thirst for experiencing more life. I am fortunate to have grown up surrounded by the love of my mother, father, stepmother, my deceased stepfather, all five of my older brothers, a younger stepbrother and a host of other family members and close friends. Being embraced in such a warm way as I was growing up helped me to feel secure in sharing my love with others as an adult. What I’ve had to learn and understand though, is that not everyone has had a similar loving experience and so they might not be as comfortable receiving the love as I am in giving the love. This is when I have to be mindful of how I’m using my love blanket.
I’ve certainly had my fair share of bumps and bruises along my love journey. There were definitely those breakups where I told myself I was going to box up my love and put it on a shelf so it wouldn’t get hurt again. But as I was thinking about this earlier today, I realized that no matter how hard it was to go through a breakup or for a long period of time without speaking to a close friend, I’ve always managed to come back around and be willing to share my love again.
I met a woman this summer who told me that she only allows herself to go so far in relationships, because she doesn’t want to experience the pain of heartbreak. When she reaches a point where she thinks her feelings are becoming too invested, she’ll find a reason to break things off. Even though I was going through my own heartbreak at the time, I remember thinking how sad that was to me. If she continued living that way, she would never completely allow herself to fully experience the joy and euphoria of love. Indeed, there is always a chance that things might not work out; that’s the “hook,” if you will. The source of some of your greatest joy can also become the parallel source of some of your greatest pain. The investment is worth it though. If we remember that love is truly a gift from the Universe then we will always be grateful for the experience, no matter how brief it may be. There are some things in life that can be a sure bet, but when we receive the gift of love, there is no guarantee of how long we will have it. We can only do our best to appreciate and nurture love while it is in our hands, as well as do our best to accept and release when it’s time to let love go. They say the greatest achievement and the greatest love both take the greatest risk. However, the key is to always make sure you invest in your self first…when it comes to both achievement and love.
I can admit that my love blanket is currently resting on the shelf, but not for fear of using it. I’m in a space and place where I’m really enjoying getting to know myself better. I guess you can say I’m betting on the house right now. But my favorite season of Fall is upon us. I love the colors of the changing season, the first taste of the crisp air and rooting for my favorite football team (Go NY Giants!) in my favorite team sweatshirt. When the time comes, I’m sure I’ll be ready to pull out my love blanket too.
Keep Love Alive. Peace.