All this week, two things have been pretty much dominating our days: the ongoing drama (I heard one commentator calling it “Kabuki theater”) of the debt ceiling debate, and football camp.
Even though I have largely sworn off watching political coverage, the specter of a possible national default was enough to persuade me to start checking in with the news again. The irony of the public horror at the thought of declaring bankruptcy when I myself just had to go through it did not escape me. Indeed, when I first heard a news anchor waxing passionate on the subject I have to admit I rolled my eyes and said, “This would probably bother me a lot more had I not just had to do it myself.”
Then I did a little research and realized that there was a lot more involved, that as with most of what we see happening politically these days the real debate was over things that really don’t hold up well under scrutiny, and that raising the debt ceiling has nothing to do with allowing us to incur more expenses, but everything to do with honoring debts we have already incurred.
I came to the conclusion that the debt ceiling should be raised, no matter how distasteful the idea may be. I even agree that we should get spending under control, and that some of the loopholes that allow those who bear much of the responsibility for the global crash to evade paying their fair share should be closed.
The hitch, of course, is that Taxes have become a religion to many in the Republican party, and as with any religion, you have your liberals, who might concede to closing tax loopholes, and your conservatives, who might consent under duress but who suspect the liberals are probably going to Hell. And then you have your lunatic fringe, the wild-eyed tax fundamentalists who insist that what was good enough for George Washington tax-wise should be good enough for us.
And if that isn’t enough, you’ve also got your basic Mean Girl thing going on in the GOP, which has decided that Good Policy is making President Obama’s life so miserable he finally gives up and goes away and lets them have the best office again. I could talk about how veiled and therefore more virulent racism seems to fuel a lot of that, but what would be the point? Somebody somewhere would be sure to utter the words, “Job-killing taxes,” and there we would be, in the middle of an argument we cannot hope to settle because the real things we’re arguing about aren’t the things many of us claim to be arguing about. And because for some of us, our position has become an article of faith, something in which we believe, even though we can’t really provide a good explanation for it. In fact, merely asking for fact-based, logical reasons for our beliefs is like expecting us to produce God in a test tube.
So there’s the news. But in our town there’s also football camp. Every year, the middle school and high school coaches send out word that for two weeks in July they will teach any kid in town old enough to walk and potty train reliably how to play football. (Actually I think kids have to be in elementary school, but you get my point. They cast their nets wide, because there aren’t enough big fish around here for us to be snobbish about hauling in a few minnows.)
Every evening for the last two weeks, the practice field between the high school and the middle school has filled up with boys ranging in height from Patrick, who is six four now, down to a very small child whose head didn’t reach a number of the boys’ waists. I think his big brother wanted to come to football camp, but he had to babysit. And so he brought his little brother along. And because this is our town, and coaches make allowances to get as many kids onto the field as possible, they made the little guy a part of the program. All this week he has run plays with boys bigger and older than he is. He had an unfortunate meeting with a big boy foot during stretches a couple nights ago and developed a nice shiner, but he ran on, undaunted.
He’s the smallest boy, but he’s far from the only little one. Because we’re small potatoes here, football camp welcomes all shapes and sizes. The coaches divide the boys by size and ability for running drills, but the whole group stretches together, and from time to time throughout the evening the head coach blows his whistle and brings all the boys together for footraces, pushing contests, and various games designed to build speed, stamina, and spirit. Patrick says he also talks to them about what it means to be a team–that you become family, encourage the weaker and slower among you, and celebrate all victories together. I saw it play out in the exercises and races, where faster, more agile boys would sometimes double back to run with and encourage a slower boy, and where everybody cheered for a boy who succeeded in doing something right for the first time.
For the last two weeks, I have sat on the grass with my back propped against a power pole and watched a few of the men in my town teach the boys and young men coming after them about the joys of doing something well, of working as a team, and of stretching one’s self beyond one’s limits.
But as I watched I realized that those boys are learning something else as well. They are learning how to be careful of each other. There are probably almost a hundred boys out on that field. They range in height from 6’4″ down to the little guy, who is maybe three feet tall. For much of the time they are engaged in vigorous, close-range activity. There have been few accidents, none serious. I look at the big boys, and watch how they temper their responses to teach the young ones rather than dominate them. I watched the littlest kid’s big brother keep track of him. I watched the coaches watch out for him, shaping his participation to both teach him and protect him. I watched the coaches help the boys to discover each others’ strengths and weaknesses, and then work together for a common goal.
I watched all that, and I realized that while our national life is very much reverting to the law of tooth and claw and might is all, in our town, at least, the boys in football camp are learning about a different law–a law that says that everyone who wants to be involved is welcome, that everyone needs to try their best, that there is no room for egos and power trips on the field, and that if you’re bigger and stronger you have a responsibility to do more than just outplay everyone else. You are responsible for seeing to it that your actions don’t injure the smaller and weaker among you. And you are responsible for showing them what it means to participate with joy, with passion, with excellence, with respect for others, and with honor and sportsmanship. Football camp is about teaching football, but the way it happens here it’s about teaching honor as well.
Perhaps President Obama needs to hold a football camp. I’m happyt to ask our coaches if they’re available.