A few weekends ago, my husband and I had a (rare) free weekend. So, we eagerly hooked our bikes to the back of our car and headed out for a much-anticipated bike ride along the Lehigh Gorge. To get an early start Saturday morning, we drove up on Friday night to his mother’s little getaway cabin in Parryville PA. Dusk had settled when we arrived and we expected a quiet and peaceful welcome. That night, however, the echo of drums, trumpets, and cheering reverberated through the crisp autumn air. Intrigued, we agreed it would be much more fun to be there, wherever there was, than in our remote cabin.
Figuring it was a high school football game, we found the nearest one through Google maps and headed out. Not only did we find the football game, we also learned that it was Homecoming. The sounds of the crowds cheering and the announcer broadcasting wafted through our window as we found parking. The excitement in the air was palpable. Ben explained to me that Homecoming meant alumni came out and participated in cheering and in the band, which accounted for extra fanfare. We found out it was free to enter after half-time, which was only 4 minutes away when we arrived, so we decided to wait it out.
We retreated to a small hill a short distance away, which provided a great vantage point to see the entire stadium. I attended a private Christian school, with no sports teams, so this was the very first high school football game I ever attended. And I was enthralled with it all: the roaring crowds in the stands; the cheer squad chanting, kicking, and waving hot pink pom-poms; the marching band lining up on the field preparing for half-time; the football team running back and forth on the field; the middle-schoolers running around behind the bleachers; families lined up to buy hotdogs at the concession stand. Then, the halftime whistle blew and the teams ran off the field into the locker rooms. The marching band marched onto the field and performed Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap by AC/DC.
After half-time, we entered the stadium and found seats on the bleachers among the passionate, shouting fans of ALL ages. There were grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers fathers, adult children, young children from infant age up through middle-school age. They were bedecked head to toe in their team’s gear. They ranted and called out encouragement as the teams ran up and down the field, blocking and tackling, and scoring touchdowns. There was a section of high-school students, decked out in pink t-shirts (in honor of breast cancer awareness month), equally emphatic in their cheering. The marching band commandeered its own section of the bleachers, trumpeting and pounding the drums with gusto.
The air was crisp and bright and I felt myself smile as my spirit was swept up in the excitement of the festivities. What a great community event, I thought.
Growing up, I attended an insular church that did not socialize with people outside its congregation. For 18 years, I gathered with the same group of people for church picnics, house parties, and potlucks. We laughed, cried, and lived out life together in our small world. I remember how families pulled together to help each other in times of need. Looking back, I realize what a strong community we had.
There came a point in my life, however, when I decided it was not the life for me. It was a difficult, sad choice because it meant leaving behind me the only community I had ever known. For many years, I was somewhat aimless with a deep sadness inside. I had trouble making intimate friendships, perhaps because I was afraid they would be torn from me. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized how much that loss of community affected me. For a long time, there was a big gaping hole that left me grieving and I didn’t even know I was.
At that game, in that moment on the bleachers, I realized how, over time, a sense of community had been restored to me. As I rediscovered who God made me to be, I began opening up to others. I met my husband and his friends became mine as well. I switched to his church a few years ago and began to build relationships there. Part of the healing came from the love and support and mentorship from my new church family. Now, I’ve become a support to others.
That weekend away was about a bike ride, but I’ll remember it more for that random football game. It was a reminder to be grateful for the full life I now live, enriched by my new community.
Photo courtesy of Ezra Jeffrey via Unsplash