Now I understand
Much of my job is relatively simple. I plan my week, go to games, watch, tweet, write, ask questions and convey what I see to readers. Those are the facts. That's when I use my eyes to see what happens and my finger to let everyone else know what happened, how it happened and what it meant. That's the easy part.
The much more difficult part comes when I use my ears. Whenever I'm covering a game or even when I'm just out in the community, I'm listening.
I don't want to seem creepy when I say that because I don't want to give off an NSA-type vibe, but I overhear countless conversations between parents, students, fans and everyone else.
I've learned that paying attention to what my (hopeful) readers say is incredibly important to understanding what's important to them. And even though the citizens of Rutherford County don't sign my paycheck, they are the ones I write for.
With that said, some of the best stories and columns come from listening. Some weeks are slow and others have a conversation, comment or email that really catches my attention. This week was one of the latter.
A mother emailed me telling me about an honor given to her child. Of course I get these emails regularly whether it be a football player, basketball player, gymnast or martial artists, so I didn't think much of the first few lines where she merely gave me the news.
However, the email continued. This mother of a senior athlete went on to tell me how emotional it was for her to see her child's high school athletic days come to an end. She wrote to me as if I was one of her best friends and I could tell that she meant every word she said. I had never received an email like this one.
She illustrated — beautifully I might add — a perspective I never really considered ... a mother's. So often I relate to the players on the field because I was on of them only a handful of years ago. As a player I felt the emotion of a season that seemed to end too soon. I walked off the field with a feeling of disappointment and sadness.
I even analyze how coaches must feel. The men and women that spent every afternoon with these players trying to mold them as athletes as well as young adults. But never have I really thought about the parents. Maybe because my job is to analyze what happens on the field or maybe because that's a shoe I've never worn, but regardless, this email was all I needed to see how much the games really mean to those in the stands.
This mother recalled her child's final game and said, "as we stood and watched them leave the field that last time ... they didn't look 17 and 18. They looked 6 and 7."
She added, "the end of this is honestly like a mourning period, almost a death. Our lives have been washing pants and jerseys and getting concessions ready and it seems like this all just began and we each already miss it."
I read those words several times, each time I felt a different emotion. At first I was confused. How could you compare the end of a sporting career to a death? It didn't seem right.
Then I read it again. Not as a journalist, but as a person.
I remembered this is a mother dealing with something I can't relate with. So I thought about my own mother. I thought back to my senior year of high school and those first couple of years after I left for college. I remembered how her hugs lingered longer and squeezed tighter than ever. I remembered how she always asked what I wanted for dinner when I came home to visit. I remembered how she playfully griped every time I brought home laundry but secretly loved taking care of it. I remembered how she stood at the window and watched me back out of the driveway every time I left to go back to school on Sunday nights.
She missed me. She missed that 7-year-old boy that never came home without a grass stain on his pants. She missed the 10-year-old boy she constantly ran to baseball, basketball, soccer and karate practices. She missed the 16-year-old boy that always ignored her in favor of his girlfriend. She missed the 17-year-old boy that begged her to calm his dad down after he got in his first fender bender. She missed her little boy.
Of course I'm still her son, but I'm no longer that little boy. That's what the mother in this email is dealing with. It's not a death, but it's undoubtedly the end of something incredibly special to her.
Like I said, I didn't understand at first, but the more I thought about it the more it clicked. And the more it clicked the closer it brought me to tears.
All I can say to her and to other mothers dealing with the same feelings is that even though your long hugs seem weird to your sons or daughters now, they'll understand one day. Whether it be because they have children of their own or because they get an email, they'll understand. And when they do, they'll appreciate you more than ever.