Hard to believe since today has been cold as all get out, but a couple of months ago the littles had a swim meet. It was one of those Georgia days that started out pleasant–the temperature just right–but rapidly moved into the “I’m sweating an ocean right where I’m sitting” situation. The Fella was helping as a timer, so he was somewhat in the shade, but Aub and I–not so much. We sat in our camping chairs (that have never been camping, but they have attended numerous sporting events over the years) and tried not to complain about the heat too much.
Because it was hot as mess.
We were using arms and sunglasses to block the burning glare, but there really was no escape for those of us who were watching the meet. We were drinking all the water (subtracting out what may or may not have been poured on one or both of us in an effort to cool us off) as we cheered our swimmers on.
Just when we didn’t think we could bear it any longer, a woman came up to us from the pool area. Separated by the chainlink fence, she hoisted her black umbrella up above her head and over the fence.
“Please take my umbrella. I’m about to leave, but my son is over there. He’s staying until the meet is over because his daughter is still swimming. You can just give it back to him when the meet is over, okay?”
I was stunned. Not only had this stranger offered us protection from the glaring rays of the sun in the form of her lovely umbrella, but she’d been paying attention. To us. Folks she’d never met before. And she’d noticed our distress.
Of what she had, she was giving.
I’ve thought about her many times over the past few months since. She touched my heart with her generosity and interruptibility and compassion. And with her umbrella, which was the embodiment of those three things. She saw, she noticed, (and those are two very different things), and she gave. She was the umbrella.
Two days ago Cooter shared with me a story that he read in one of his books of football stories. In 1943 because so many young men were being drafted for WW II, two teams–the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers–combined the players that each had left, so they’d have enough players to make a team. Formerly bitter rivals, they worked together and had a winning season. Though not their official name, the blended team was called the “Steagles.” During a time of crisis, the ones who were former “enemies” banded together, worked together for the good, and created a winning team.
As 2016 comes to a close, both of these stories are at the forefront of my mind. While I know my Mama would be fussing at me for disregarding the beauty and joy in everyday, several times over the past month or two, I’ve said along with many–“Good riddance, 2016.” I know it hasn’t been all bad, but good gravy, we’ve had some doozies this year, haven’t we?
As I turn the page of my calendar tomorrow and greet a new day, a new year, I look for my word–the word to carry with me through the year, to hold close and inspire me, to encourage me, and to challenge me to, as my Mama used to say, “be my best self.”
For 2017, I’ve chosen two words.
As I seek to make the coming year a better one, one that welcomes all, encourages all, loves all, I need to be the umbrella. See, notice, share. Offer protection, shelter, comfort, love. And I need to pass along the umbrellas offered to me. Pay it forward, backwards, upside down–pass it along to whomever, wherever/whenever it is needed. And the really cool thing about umbrellas is even if you can’t afford to let it go, there’s usually almost always room to invite another soul in out of the rough stuff to stand beside you and be protected alongside you.
This is going to be a year of collaboration, community, teamwork. It will have to be. I think great and beautiful things can happen. But only if we are willing to break through the perceptions that are barriers, the ones that keep us from seeing how alike we are despite the world posting the differences on a lighted marquee sign. While it will be way out of my comfort zone, I think it’s time to join up with folks from the other teams and see if we can do any better together.
Because better is what we need.
My last umbrella wound up going to someone on an exit ramp during a bad rainstorm. Which is as it should be. So I’m out of umbrellas and I doubt I can find a Steagles jersey on Etsy (but you can find Falcons ones, and that’s all I’m going to share about that because birthdays and whatnots are coming up, don’tcha know), but I can carry the spirit of them both with me and share it with folks I come across on the backroads and interstates and sidewalks.
Tonight I’m thankful for old WWII football players and grandmas at swim meets. They both have taught me a great lesson–one I’m going to try my level best to live out in 2017.
Happy New Year! But as Mama would say–even more importantly, Happy Everyday!
Love to all.