Miranda (not her real name), the curly-haired little girl who sits next to me in the seventh-grade math class in which I assist in the middle school where I work, is a great artist.
She hides from the teacher, and she thinks she’s hiding from me, when she draws instead of paying attention to the teacher’s instruction. From time to time – not too many times so as to nag her, but just enough so that I hope it can be effective -- I respectfully whisper to her things like, "Let’s take your notes, please," or, "Are you sure you understand this?," to try to get her back on track. I want to keep her focused on math while at the same time not ruining her interest in art, for she does have a real God-given talent.
And I remember 50 years before when there was a kid in my junior high classes who secretly – or so he thought -- wrote sports stories and checked out his baseball cards, which had no business being at school, instead of honing in completely on the teacher’s instruction. That side interest in sports, and writing, turned into a lifelong career that’s still being played out to this day, and I can see the same thing perhaps happening with Miranda in art. I dare not squash that, or rain on her parade.
So I pick and choose my friendly little battles with her.
But unlike that junior high boy of long ago, Miranda is apparently not a sports fan – far from it, really. In fact, she came into class the other day fit to be tied.
"I don’t get this stuff about football," she said, totally exasperated, "with some people putting it on a pedestal and treating it as if it were some kind of religion."
I believe that, as an adult, you are given tests every day, and even at times teachable moments. And this, I could see, was one of both.
"Oh, some people just like football, and sports," I told her. "It’s important to them. They’re just having fun with something they really like. They’re no different than a person who likes movies, video games or even art."
She looked at me kind of wide-eyed, as if I had blown her cover, went and got her math workbook and got ready for class.
Without ever discussing specifics, I understood what she meant, and she understood what I meant.
I certainly get Miranda’s point. Like with anything else, whether it be bee-keeping, cars, fashion or, even art, believe it or not, some people take sports to extremes. That always happens with everything, and the games people play are not excluded.
But those people are rare exceptions. Most follow sports because it’s an enjoyable release – an escape – from the real world, and in some cases it even conjures up memories of home and of days and people – loved ones – long since gone.
Sports, by virtue of the team(s) you’re rooting for, lets others know where your heart lies. You’re rooting for those athletes, coaches, managers and teams, but with it, you’re really rooting for home – the home teams, the ones who are based in the places you will always call home.
They wear the name of your hometown on their jerseys and are trying to make it look good, to put it up on that pedestal that Miranda talked about. And when they win, you win. You have a reason to feel even better about your hometown than you already do, which is an awful lot.
No matter where you go in life, that is always your hometown, and those are always your teams. They – the town and teams – were given to you at birth. They travel with you, tucked away in your heart, mind and soul, wherever you are. You wear the name of that town and its teams on your own shirt, sometimes in a literal sense with paraphernalia, and other times with the joy you show when they do well.
It’s not a religion, but it is certainly something good – very good and very special. It touches you in a way that few things can.
Just like art does to other people.
Or, crazy though it may sound, even math, though to both Miranda and me, I just don’t see how that ever adds up.