Football, Opera, and Thanksgiving

It wasn’t until I moved to Ann Arbor that I went to a football game. Growing up, my experience of football was to walk through the room where my father was watching it on tv, see two lines of guys in helmets crash into each other, and hear my father yell “Idiots! Idiots!” This was not a compelling reason to sit down and watch the game. Eventually I learned to sit and watch it with Doug, who explained it much better than my Dad did.

But football permeates the air in Ann Arbor. Swaths of blue printed with large yellow block M’s are everywhere, including on people’s heads and chests. Streets downtown become suddenly deserted on autumn Saturday afternoons. You can go to a concert of Beethoven or Mozart and at intermission find half the women in the ladies room checking another kind of score on their smart phones. So when a neighbor offered us tickets to a real live game, I was curious and wanted to go.

It turned out to be a lot like attending the opera: a large stage; an engaged audience intent on letting the players know what they thought of the performance; fans who cared about it more than seemed sane; divas throwing tantrums over actions that were open to interpretation. I thought it was pretty wonderful and, like opera, completely different being in the same building with it, compared to watching a broadcast.

But a few days ago we went to the best football game ever. After struggling in the first two acts, our heroes came back after intermission, um, halftime, to overcome all difficulties in the third. Then in the fourth the magic happened: as it began to get dark, the first snow of the year came swirling down, backlit by tall racks of lights. The big stadium turned into a snowglobe. Snow feathered the teams, the fans; offense and defense threw up rooster tails of glitter while the disembodied voice of officialdom said, “the ball is somewhere near the middle of the field” and cheerleaders lay down to make snow angels. We won; it ended; players sledded, laughing, on their stomachs, threw snowballs, and made snow angels too. The whole sky had opened up in an ovation, crazy, generous. Just like opera.

And just what we needed. We were aching and sore from the difficult, muddy election we all dragged ourselves through, the one where the polls were unanimous that what everyone really wanted was for it to be over, but for the majority of us the end was a heartbreak. Like opera, the game and the snow remind us that setbacks exist to be overcome, that what looks like darkness can brighten in unexpected ways. There’s always possibility, and that’s something to be grateful for.

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