I just got back home from the amazing Black Life Matters conference in Tucson, Arizona. It’s also MLK day, and after months of sustained nationwide protests against the police murder of black lives, this MLK day feels especially significant. I’m feeling even more introspective than usual, trying to process and metabolize all I’ve had the opportunity to learn.
I am asking a lot these days: What it will take for people to come together to dismantle injustice? How is it that we move from our “individual” selves to a collective social energy that will create an unstoppable momentum for change?
And, also—not insignificant to my internal meditations today— I just watched the most incredible sports come-from-behind victory of my life, truly the most astounding last 2 minutes and 13 seconds of a football game I’ve ever witnessed in about 30 years of watching football. If you are a Seahawks fan, as I have been since I was a kid, you might be walking around in a delicious yet somewhat confused daze as I am today. I am actually having a hard time processing that that shift of momentum just happened, and what that means for my view of reality. For reals.
“IS THIS REAL LIFE, KIM?” my cousin Andrew texted me after our victory that shot us to Super Bowl 49. (He had graciously hosted me in Tucson this past week, and we spent our last few days talking about the upcoming game. We are in the same family fantasy football league, too. See the cute photo of us.)
Can you actually turn the ball over 5 times, only get on the board in the first place because your punter throws to the end zone on a fake, and then after that miracle manage to score 3 touchdowns, recover an onside kick, make a two-point conversion all in the time between 2 minutes 13 seconds left and an overtime victory? And oh yah, the person who caught the final touchdown (the incredible Jermaine Kearse) had 5 passes thrown his way earlier in the game that ended in 4 interceptions.
That last Wilson-Kearse connection for the game-winning TD in overtime was the essence of redemption and believing in one another. When we all saw Wilson launch that last pass toward the end zone my group of 12’s let out a collective groan—“NOOOOOO.” I think I might have screamed. At that point, we were just flat-out scared every time the ball left Wilson’s hands for a long pass. And, if we had known the pass would end up anywhere near Kearse we would have really freaked out. But, the thing is Wilson wanted Kearse to get another chance. And Kearse, like the rest of the team, was still believing in Wilson, too.
(Mind you, it was a brilliant catch last year from Kearse on a 4th down that was a game-changer in our getting to Super Bowl 48. But, clearly, today was not his day. Right?)
I’ve never seen anything like what unfolded in that game—57 minutes of an offense self-destructing, interception after interception. And this self-destruction was even somehow happening amidst Marshawn Lynch’s incredible record-setting efforts at RB, so the disappointment of those turnovers was intense. And yet, the defense refused to quit and pulled off goal-line stance after goal-line stance, never giving up on its offense. The defense delivering yet another incredible stop and getting the ball back to the offense, only to have the offense throw another interception. All the while, Earl Thomas is playing injured with one shoulder, Richard Sherman is injured and playing with one arm, and then…IT suddenly happens.
Synergy, magic, something unbelievable. About 5 back-to-back miracles, including 15 points in 44 seconds.
After the game, Wilson broke down weeping, thanking the guys on the team for continuing to believe. I always watch the post-game interviews, but I confess I routinely skip Wilson’s interviews. He’s too flat affect for me. I need more emotional engagement. So, his flood of tears during his post-game interview kinda undid me. When I heard in the post-game interview that Wilson and others wanted Kearse to get the chance to win the game, that kinda undid me. When I saw how many people had to contribute to the miracle, how much effort went into being a team, it undid me.
On MLK day as I walk around in this NFC championship-induced daze, I am asking, “Wait, why in the world would a football game matter to me so much?” I mean, there are real life-or-death issues we all gotta face right now in our nation’s history and contemporary moment. And here I am wrapping my heart today around a football game.” Also, as I wrote about before the NFC Championship game last year, football as an industry encapsulates many of the issues of gender and racial injustice I am most concerned about.
All I can put to words right now is this: Sometimes, there are things that happen that I don’t think are really about the event itself; rather, they are about some kind of higher truth breaking into the field of play for a minute. I don’t think that game yesterday was just about football. Whatever happened in that game yesterday testifies to something about the power of human connection. When individuals realize what they need to accomplish can only be accomplished by continuing to believe in one another through adversity after adversity, that is how magic happens, I think. Something happens at the level of energy and spirit and matter.
You see, you really couldn’t have written the last 3 minutes of that game plan: “Hey, let’s plan to get two touchdown in the last 2 minutes and 13 seconds, recover an onside kick, get a 2-point conversion, and yah, let’s see if Wilson and Kearse can complete a long pass in OT, since 4/5 attempts have already led to interceptions, so let’s try again with the Super Bowl on the line?”
Nope, it’s not about a logical game plan at that precise moment, because the list of what needed to happen would have sounded preposterous. Rather, it’s about a momentum shift; it’s about an infusion of love & resiliency; it’s about staying connected to one another.
* * *
Here’s the thing: historically speaking, I feel as though we are in that last 2 minutes and 13 seconds. I am not trying to be overly morbid here, but the reality is that our planet is facing massive issues—environmental and social—because for the last 500 years we’ve self-destructed. Did you know a study was just released that shows mass extinction of the oceans is “probable”? We’ve managed to live and consume in such a way that the earth itself is going to have to shut itself down. These wars of occupation being fought, the killing of black and brown lives in the U.S. and beyond, is the direct result of a historical game plan. That game plan is called western colonialism, racism, hetero-patriarchy, the transatlantic slave trade, genocide of Indigenous communities, western capitalism, and an abuse toward the earth that is embedded in these violent ways of relating, these individualistic ways of living that benefit a few and harm most.
It is not always easy to keep believing that change is possible. But I do think the source of hope itself is to shift into a different way of imagining the world. And that different way is all about what it means to be connected—to see ourselves not just as individuals but as people who believe in one another and discover a synergy that is only possible in connection and faith.
I know it was just a football game. But, I think for those of us who love this team and have followed its story, it was something far more. Pete Carroll said it himself in his post-game talk to his team. “You shared that demonstration of love and belief….you shared that…you showed what it is to believe in one another.”
I am swept off my feet today because in the core of my being I believe that sometimes higher truths about love and life do break into the field of play and show us something profound about the nature of reality. I have always believed that, actually, but I’ve become too much of an academic to write about mysterious stuff like that which utterly defies logic. But, I met someone at last week’s Black Life Matters conference who told me—who called me to— start living that belief out loud if my work in the world was going to do what my work in the world needs to do. (“Strangers” speak truth in surprising moments, you know. Perhaps because we are not really so separate in this world, after all.)
Those moments of Something breaking into the field of play can be in a sports game, an unexpected conversation, giving birth, listening to exquisite music, an epiphanic experience tending a garden, a wordless prayer, a dance. All I know is that sometimes, in the most surprising ways, we perceive a mysterious power of love and connection that suddenly puts in perspective all our “rational” tools and logic.
I am trying to cultivate those moments in 2015, but I also think they can manifest anywhere.