It’s been three months since Dick’s mom came to live with us, and the enormity of the responsibility has sunk in. Jeri’s wonderful hospice team is arranging a volunteer for an afternoon or two per week, and we’re hiring help for several days each week. Dick’s brother and sister and their spouses aren’t in a position to be of very much help (I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed to call them my in-laws, because we aren’t actually Married in the Eyes of the Law. Or the Church.) I met the extended family only once in the year before Dick and I committed to sharing a home, and caring for their dying mother probably isn’t the ideal way for all of us to get to know each other.
Dick’s sister-in-law told him recently that she prays for us every day, asks Jesus to strengthen and encourage us. So we have that going for us. It’s good to have cheerleaders, I guess. But I haven’t seen Jesus hanging around when it’s time to fix meals, or help Jeri with her personal needs, or attend to her laundry and medications and questions. Dick and I are the only ones here, doing what needs to be done. In return, we get the gift of connection, available to any of us when we stick around for the tough stuff. If Jesus wants to cheer us on in that, good on Him.
So. Thinking of the relative merits of cheerleading made me remember my son Paul’s high school football days. Playing college football is a tradition in his dad’s family – the meme is that males who turn out to be somebody all suffered/enjoyed the rigors of college football. I know this wasn’t the primary reason that Paul went out for football as a high school freshman, but it was there in the background.
Football in Minnetonka is a cherished institution, with all of the benefits and perils of any other institution. Friday nights, everyone in town comes to cheer the home team. The stadium is full of middle schoolers roaming “the Hill” above the end zone, classes congregating in their sections (all standing on seats and risers, thereby doubling capacity), the marching band and their shining instruments and uniforms. Families come early for burgers. I served lots of those burgers and I loved every minute of it — seeing my kids and their friends, other parents, teachers, school board members. The coaching staff made a point to stop by to thank volunteers for the support.
Minnetonka has good cheerleading squads, athletes in their own right. Their work on the sidelines makes us all feel like we’re on the same page, at least for four quarters. But it was Paul and his teammates who did all the work, every day for four years. Practice at 6 AM, and again at 4 PM in the heat of August. On the fields for weeks that went from a humid 98F to below-zero snowstorms. Grueling weight training every week, all year, every year. Competing with players younger and older for coveted starting spots, and rarely getting them.
Paul and his friends are better human beings not because they had the privilege of wearing blue on that field, or the hoped-for glory of a few minutes of playing time while we all cheered from the overflowing stands. It was the work that did it — doing the work in the cold and the dark, the mud and sweat and blood and heat. Paul and his teammates made that choice. So do I.
The cheering, nice as it is, is beside the point.