Recently a man took up residence on my town’s football field, sleeping in a small tent in the northwestern corner, near the copse of cedars. He had been a terrific football player some years ago for our high school… Then he had entered into several business ventures, but these had not gone so well, and he had married and had children, but that had not gone so well either, and finally he’d taken up residence on the football field, because, he said, that was where things had gone well, and he sort of needed to get balanced again, and there was something about the field that was working for him, as far as he could tell.
Pressed for time? Then this is the essay for you – at less than 700 words, it just barely spills over a single page. And it’s available online. I’m always getting little mailers from The Sun though I have no idea how I ended up on their mailing list – they’re one of the sweetest little magazines around.
I was just getting into the whole “even if your life is falling apart you can appreciate what’s truly important” vibe when it struck me there was a far deeper chord in this for me. Yes, it’s a story about a man whose life has deteriorated, who’s living in a football field, who’s helped out by the town because, well, he’s a person and he deserves it. All fine Sun stuff. Stuff that would have Mitt Romney babbling about responsibility and borrowing money from your parents to go to college if you have to.
But it’s also a story about listening, and hearing what’s being said, instead of listening for confirmation of what you want to be true:
The reporter from the paper came by, he said. She wanted to write a story about the failure of the American dream and the collapse of the social contract, and she was just melting to use football as a metaphor for something or other, and I know she was just trying to do her job, but I kept telling her things that didn’t fit what she wanted…
That brought me up short. Maybe I was doing the same thing, fitting the essay into a mold, deciding it was one of “those” heartwarming stories that isn’t really my cup of tea, but gee, I could get with it for a page and a little bit. It’s so easy to categorize something, then ignore what doesn’t fit so you can file it away neatly.
Maybe I wasn’t reading what was on the page at all.
I think I should watch that in the future.