I guess it’s a little silly.
This morning, I’ve exchanged texts with the friend I’ve loved the longest about some devastating news for her family – a family that, frankly, has really got enough to handle right now. This past week, I’ve introduced a friend newly diagnosed with cancer to one who’s been fighting it with honest humor and down-to-earth faith for years.
I’ve listened as just a really fucking good person hurt out loud. I’ve seen status updates from friends who are still too anxiety-riddled about our world, our country, our treatment of each other, to sleep.
I’ve faced, again and always, my own fears and desires and questions that have changed form but still wear the same face.
And here I sit, in the same place I sit at this time every year: comfortably ensconced in front of the television, remote at the ready, oddly but familiarly excited to watch one of the best weekends on the sports calendar unfold.
This is the weekend when college basketball’s mid-majors, the little guys, the Cinderellas, fight tooth and Nikes to get to the NCAA tournament via the only route available to them: winning their conference tournaments. These conferences have names like Big South, Missouri Valley, Patriot, Atlantic Sun, Horizon, Summit and Southern. Their championships are contested in tight arenas from which the smell of sweat accompanies the squeak of sneakers through the TV screen and into your living room.
There has already been madness. Jacksonville State, home of the other Gamecocks, booked its first-ever Big Dance trip with a 66-55 win against UT-Martin in the Ohio Valley championship game, solidifying the field’s first automatic bid.
More spots will be booked today and this week, and if history is any indication (and in hoops, it always is), more than a few of these games will go down to the wire. There will be half-court heaves and last-second putbacks, instant elation and split-second heartbreak.
And I’d be remiss not to mention that my Gamecocks women’s team can become just the second SEC squad to win three straight tournament titles with a victory against Mississippi State – a tall order made even tougher after senior center Alaina Coates re-injured her ankle yesterday.
It is a beautiful thing. A small thing, perhaps, measured carefully against the aforementioned sharp edges of the outside world. But I take pleasure and comfort in it.
Last year, I wrote about this beautiful thing in my daddy’s study, surfing on so many sea changes I wasn’t sure which way was up. I was asked questions I had no answers for – none at all, a fact that in itself was somewhat freeing.
A year later, some of those questions have been answered. Others linger, but at least they have been discussed, examined, looked at in a light that brings, if not clarity, then acknowledgment. My sense of self, obliterated by a full-court press of stress and sadness and self-pity and just life, has re-emerged, for better or worse. I will fight to keep it, and it will guide me in the search for the answers I don’t yet have on the days I remember to consult it.
That self is fed by days like this. Sunlight streams through the window onto the napping cat, refracting off my wine glass and my computer screen. It’s 1 p.m., and we’re in the heart of things now. I watch teams I once covered in near-empty arenas, slogging through long days and an idiotic youthful malaise that made me yearn for something bigger and better, not having lived long enough to know that nothing is bigger than a dream 94 feet in front of you.
If I didn’t fully appreciate it then, I do now. And as silly as it may seem, I’m going to indulge in that appreciation all day.