Now, before I get excited about last night's insane Ravens win, I have to admit -
I used to hate football.
And I didn't stop at hating it, no, but found it a sport to be derided. In fact, I was pretty vehemently anti-sports, having been subjected to too many field hockey and lacrosse lessons, having no innate physical skills, and being an ardent pianist, actress, and writer. I felt that sports took away from other, artistic endeavors (it is rare to see so much jubilance at the symphony, so much rowdy pleasure at Center Stage). And with all of that in mind, I concluded that athletic activities were just plain stupid, and so were the people who followed them, delightedly, on the field or on their televisions.
This is an attitude I grew up with, in a household of musicians and artists, and I think some of it is born of that simple and slithering demon, jealousy. I don't think that my parents or I would ever trade our artistic talents for a great arm or epic yardage, of course - it seems that the jealousy comes in when so many appreciate a talent which we will never have, and that that talent is somehow worth millions of dollars and sponsorships and your face on a Big Gulp. And it was a pretty bitter fight, sometimes, between what we considered valuable and what the world adored. I think we all asked how people with physical skills became so important, with so much more inherent worth, so overshadowing the work and performances of pianists and singers and actors and painters. Why, we asked, does it have to be this way?
So maybe it isn't jealousy - maybe it is a cry to be recognized for all of the invisible Herculean efforts of artistry. And those do, absolutely, deserve to be lauded. Modern artists are the future's gods. But still, when that cry turns into something ugly, we have to wonder.
It is easy to be open-minded when you can decide what to open your mind to, when there are limits. I thought of myself, then, as a very liberal and forward thinking person - as long as that didn't apply to sports, republicanism, and light beer. Though I'm still working on the last two, the moment I decided to throw away my colossal heap of judgement and derision and watch a football game was one of the most eye-opening moments of my life.
Gosh, it was fun.
And all of those people I had chosen to judge because of what they did in their spare time - watching a game - were so wrongly criticized by me, and furthermore I felt a great sense of community, cheering for the same team, sharing stats and quips and shouts, living in moments of silence before a big play or a field goal.
And then I realized that judging football players was equally as ridiculous, and I threw that out too. My negativity will never control how much they are paid. I still think it is somewhat criminal that all of this money goes to athletes as opposed to public schools or city infrastructure or the arts, but my teenage, nasty little voice of condemnation has nothing whatsoever to do with the reality of the situation. And beyond that, there are very real consequences of having an athletic career, such as frequent and repeated injury, and whether or not I'm totally on board with that, one could argue that a footballer's salary is, partially, his hazard pay.
And, at the root of it, who cares? Whining about the reality of unequal and (to some) unmerited pay isn't going to make anyone want to pay me more for being a writer. It just won't happen. And why is it, then, that I ever felt the need to judge others by their skills and what their skills were worth, when I could have actually been sitting down and writing a novel instead of complaining? And why should I ever judge, then, what makes other people happy, especially knowing that as an artist I have to face other people's unwanted criticism?
What gives me a right to judge someone by their career or their pastimes, when I feel that other people wrongly judge me for my career or my passions? In the end, narrow-mindedness is a double edged sword which is better left sheathed and forgotten in the umbrella stand.
Let's get back to last night - a game which went into double overtime and made me so nervous I had to leave the room. We had friends over, and if anyone wants to be negative about watching football from the comfort of your couch I can say without shame that football was an occasion to spend time with friends, and that even if I didn't enjoy football it was a good excuse to see people I love. Not everyone last night was into football - one friend started watching only last week so she could chat about it with coworkers, and her wife cheerfully checked out in the fourth quarter and did some online jewelry shopping. George played football in high school and only started watching when I asked that we could follow the Ravens. And I started watching because, a few Christmases ago, I sat with my in-laws and decided to stop judging and start paying attention.
Change is a good thing, especially when you decide to (forgive the euphemism) remove that stick from your behind. Due to the very welcome influence of G's family, I have changed, and changed for the better. And, what's more, I think I am able to enact change in my own life and in the people I love because I'm just happier. It isn't just watching football, but the willingness to try new things and find new joys which makes me a healthier person, more ready to smile, to gasp in surprise at Smith's gazelle-like legs, to swell with pride as Lewis makes a tackle as smooth and perfect as ink on paper.
My dad got me a Ravens toaster, and he posted on Facebook regarding last night's epic game. I don't know how much my new love for football impacted his decision to watch last night, but I do know the joy of being able to share happiness.
I want to be that joy as much as possible, and it doesn't have to be about football, but it does come with a pretty serious disclaimer: please, stop judging, because it isn't worth it, and it isn't fun. It took me 23 years to start looking at the world in a new way, but the decision to have fresh eyes and wonder can happen in a moment.
Opening your eyes is a big win, and after last night, anything is possible - even if it's just sitting down, listening up, and trying something new.