In a small village nestled in the highlands south of the Hindu Kush Mountains, I watched several young boys play a spirited game of soccer. I remember the flash of brown ankles as dirty bare feet made tracks in the lightly falling snow. A boy walked up to me and held his hand out, I placed a jolly rancher in it as he continued to observe me curiously. I got the feeling he wanted a better opportunity to look at an American up close. The sky was overcast, and the landscape was brown, sparse, and lifeless. The homes in the village were erected the same way they had been for thousands of years, using mud and wooden braces. The only obvious indicators that I had not been transported to a civilization long past were our large military vehicles, and scavenged material strewn about the village. A metal door here, a motorcycle there. It continued to snow. I was shivering in my long sleeves under the weight of my body armor. The children continued to play, oblivious to it all.
May 20, 2012
I was stuck between two hills, pressed against the upside down and smoking wreck of one of our large trucks. My friend and direct supervisor was yelling at me, but he had been in the mangled truck and what he was saying did not entirely make sense. My radio was chattering with traffic from several different sources, and one of our platoon’s soldiers was kneeling next to me. I grabbed one of the soldiers who had crawled out of the broken vehicle and moved with him as quickly as possible toward one of our other intact trucks while the chatter of sporadic gunfire, both ours and an unseen enemy, echoed around me. As I made my way over to our platoon sergeant to discuss the location of a drop zone for the medivac helicopter, another boom echoed from the other side of the northern hill, just out of sight. My first thought was artillery, and I dropped to the ground along with one of my soldiers who was dutifully tailing me. I learned later it was a truck from one of our other platoons, hit by a secondary IED while on their way to us.
June 12 2016
A gunman walked into a nightclub in Orlando and killed 49 innocent people. The details are still sparse enough that I don’t feel comfortable speaking on the motivation or the planning or the execution of the attack. What is important is that it happened in America, another in a series of violent attacks that have rocked the globe in recent years. The result has been an increase in both fear and fear-mongering from every corner of the politisphere. Rash solutions being shotgun blasted by strained voices as everyone tries to yell over the cacophony.
There is no certainty, and no solution in any of it. As much as we pretend it doesn’t, our society and the world operate entirely in various shades of grey. Nothing is black and white. In the game of soccer I observed in a small village in a forgotten corner of the world, there was a winner and there was a loser. The results were concrete and definite. On May 20, 2012, and on June 12, 2016, there were no winners or losers. There will be no gratifying payoff, no celebration, and no post-game scorecard that reads “THE RED TEAM BEAT THE BLUE TEAM”.
The Black and White of Sport
We humans are drawn to the spirit of physical competition at the highest level. It is one of the reasons I love sports, and football particularly. However, I think there is more of a base motivation for why sports tend to captivate, and sometimes transcend. At the end of the day, both teams shake hands, and the scoreboard shows a clear winner and loser. The loser knows he has to fix things and “get better”. The winner rejoices in the day’s victory. The crowd reacts the same way. To the winning team’s fans, all is right in the world. The guys in the jersey colors that they are familiar with won. They will arrive at work the next day with a bounce in their step. They know that what happened is right. No one can dispute it. The post-game scorecard reads one team beat another. “THE RED TEAM BEAT THE BLUE TEAM”. Black and white.
So in September, our Lions will take the field in their Honolulu blue and silver colors. We will watch the team, and root for the good guys. Some days they will win, and some they will lose. We will hope for more of the former than the latter. We will use it as an escape from monotony, or difficulty, or fear. We will talk about the team like they are a part of us, like they represent each person that supports them. In a way, they do.
In a small village in Afghanistan, young boys play soccer. They play to be the winners of the day. They know that it is fleeting and there will be another game the next day, but they try as hard as they can anyways. They are the good guys. They deserve to win because they believe they do. Black and white. Shadows of the mountains and gentle flakes of snow. Barefoot, brown ankles flashing as they run by.