There are scarcely any words that aptly describe what went down Friday night in Paris.
Oh, we have the vocabulary. It's there, waiting to be deployed for moments like this. The weekend's events certainly check all our verbal boxes: awful, terrible, terrifying, gruesome, horrific, despicable. Plenty more terms apply, too.
But those are just words. If you were there, you didn't get shot at by words. You didn't get taken hostage by concepts or constructs. Those weren't consonants and vowels being fired in restaurants, zipping by your head, turning visions of your own mortality from abstract to concrete.
If you were there, you almost died.
Newspapers relayed this eyewitness moment:
Words are fundamental, yet so often insufficient in life's biggest moments. That's why it's good to have community -- and why it's good to have community cloaked in something as mundane as football.
That's why it's good to have this itty bitty American football blog, headquartered 4,994 miles from Paris, France. Because when shit hits the fan a little too close to home, we need sports, not for sports' sake, but for -- as cheesy as it sounds -- brotherhood and sisterhood. Siblinghood!
More on the football aspect in a few paragraphs. As some of you know by now, after tolerating me for almost five Field Gulls years (so like 50 years in real life), Paris is near to my heart. I grew up there, the son of missionaries. I went to a French kindergarten and own a high school diploma from a French public school. My best friends from childhood live in Paris itself. I have shown hundreds of people around the city, I've virtually memorized the Louvre, I've dragged my wife and boys there, I stole one of my first kisses from a Texan tourist named Tanya there. (Still fervently hoping she never told her then-boyfriend, that sucker.)
Even after 15 years in Seattle, Paris remains home on a visceral level. Family friends live in the 11th arrondissement, where one of the attacks took place. These generous souls took me in for almost two weeks once when I was young and literally broke and homeless, for weird reasons that would require multiple explanatory paragraphs. And now some assholes want to shoot my friends, indiscriminately? Fuck that, man.
So with the biggest game of the year just hours away, football began to feel distant. Shallow, capricious, indulgent -- and teetering on the cliff of irrelevance, except...
It starts here:
dear sports, you are fun. thanks for distracting me for a few hours today.— Jose Rivera (@whoisjoserivera) November 15, 2015
Fun is -- apologies -- fundamental. Actually, sorry/not sorry. Because it's way more than that. It's corporate healing.
Remember after 9/11? Sporting events vanished almost instantaneously from our calendars, usurped by what Winnie the Pooh might call "Most Important Things." However, people soon began to clamor for their quick return. Why? Because there is much that divides us, but when we're doing it right, sports unites us.
Still true today. Why does Field Gulls work, as a place? Because we focus on what brings us together, and not what tears us apart. Otherwise, why come here? (Fine, Danny's Xs and Os breakdowns is a perfectly acceptable answer.)
I said, earlier, that words were just vowels and consonants. That wasn't fair. There were some good ones left around these parts Friday night.
For all their limitations, the right words can help. Another reason FG exists.
Okay, I'm not new. I realize people die in violent situations all the time. Massacres happen on all continents, with a stunning regularity that teaches us numbness -- a numbness without which we'd have trouble functioning. You can't feel everything for everyone. Hundreds of thousands of families are torn apart week after week because of war, greed, deception, power-grabbing, ignorance, hate, evil, and sometimes even plain old happenstance. Worse, there's nothing you and I can realistically do to prevent it. It can be a chaotic and unfeeling universe out there, if the planet Earth is any indication.
But that's why football, and assorted versions of sportsball around the globe, are MORE important, rather than less. Sports are at the very, very least a diversion to get our mind off a brutish existence that shepherds us inexorably toward extinction, toward a death that is either final, or not.
It's an incomplete effort, though, a throwaway toss out of bounds, if we stop at the diversionary aspect. Sports, and by extension our beloved Seattle Seahawks, are also proof that we're all in it together. Even rivals -- we're all invested in the outcome, Niners and Rams and Cardinals fans alike. We're brothers and sisters in passion, in fanhood. We're suddenly siblings, with all that word entails, in something insignificant compared to death -- but significant compared to the aloneness that greets us when we enter, and exit, this world.
Many others before me have taken the importance of sports farther, and with good reason. High-level competition serves as a useful reminder that certain people win, and others lose, while teaching us that perseverance and hard work matter in the end. Regardless of score.
And those are great lessons. But sometimes, instead of a lecture coded in awe-inspiring athletic entertainment, don't we just need a simple reminder of community, a simple way to go "pffffffflthlbt" at the world? I know I do.
So, Go Hawks. Go Life, in the face of death's many cold tentacles. Go Us.