Friday, September 24, 2010

Why I Can't Explain What Calling the Hogs Means to Me...

"Breathes there a man with soul so dead
who never to himself hath said
This is my own. My native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burned
as home his footsteps he has turned
From wandering on a foreign strand..."
- Sir Walter Scott

When I left Little Rock to move to D.C., my mama told me never to forget where I came from. Little did she know that I would spend most of my first two months in my new home missing my old one. It is not just missing something familiar, family, or friends. It is that longing deep down that Sir Walter Scott was talking about. It is that intangible connection to where I'm from.
As one might expect, the problem with intangible connections is they are usually hard to define. Fortunately for me, I just have to point to a simple answer and that is by watching Arkansas Razorback football games. See, it was in my four years of college, watching those games that I learned something about who I am in this world. I'm an Arkansan.

Growing up in Arkansas, I watched the games because it was what I was supposed to do but mostly wanted to know if my Sunday School teachers would be grumpy the next day. It wasn't until I went away to the University that I started to realize that those games were more about my life than I could have ever imagined. I read somewhere that Bill Clinton once said that he was afraid Razorback games were a metaphor for life - I'm afraid he was too right.

To the untrained eye, a Razorback football game is no different from any other college sporting events. Two teams, fight songs, cheerleaders, people living vicariously though 19 year old kids, and alot of concession stand food. But the truth is, that game represents life for an Arkansan - the bad and the neverending hope for good.

In a state that is perennially 49 of 50 in everything good and in the top five of everything bad as ranked by the people who rank things for the purpose of humilating us, the unofficial state motto is "Thank God for Mississippi." Which by the way, Thank you God and Ole Miss for taking Houston Nutt off of our hands... (As my college advisor used to say, "Poor lil' ol' state." True story, she meant it nicely)

However, as I have learned, the one time those stats, the jokes about being poor and incestuous, and generally being stupid don't matter, and everyone has to respect us is when our football team wins. That is why the game matters. Becuase, that is a group of some 100 young men standing up for us and saying we matter.

The games teach us about hope.

Think of it this way, everytime we get down, we stand in unison and Call the Hogs. As unpretentious as the state itself, Calling the Hogs is by no means high and mighty. In fact, it is kind corny. Of course, you only think it is silly until the first time it works. Honestly, there is nothing quite like Calling them with 70,000 people. [Legend has it that in the Great Shootout of 1969, the crowd was so loud that it shook the field knocking the ball off of the tee. (Yes, seeing that happen live is on my bucket list).]

The point of all this is to say that no matter how dark things get. No matter, how far behind we are, somehow we truly believe that Calling the Hogs can change that. Like I said, doubt me all you want until the first time it works...

But in my four years at the University, I learned that there was another one of our traditions that explained why this mattered. During pregame, after the band comes in and the Hogs are called, the student section (and I guess everyone else if they want to) stands to sing the alma mater. While it took me the better part of four years to learn it, it only took me one game to learn the last line... "Mother of Mothers we sing unto, YOU!"

The tradition is to turn and point to Old Main (the oldest and original building on campus which I will probably write more about one day) as we sing this line. Old Main is signifcant not just for its age, but the fact that it is the starting point for the Senior Walk where each alumnus has their name engraved in the sidewalk to always be remembered by future generations. Old Main is an appropriate way to recognize our past and our future. It symbolizes our pride and our hope.

I loved to start the game that way because it always reminded us that all of us, students, alumni, and fans were in this together. We shared the same pride and tradition. We shared the same passion and most importantly the same hope, now and for our future.

Now that I have gone on to other places and the Ozarks are not my home, I think about the rest of the alma mater that always reminds me of where I am from.

"Pure as the dawn on the brow of they beauty
Watches thy soul from the mountains of God
Over the fates of they children departed
Far from the land where their footsteps have trod
Beacon of hope in the ways dreary lighted
Pride of our hearts that are loyal and true,
From those who adore unto one who adores us
Mother of Mothers we sing unto you"

If Razorback football is a metaphor for life, I think the most important lesson might be that wherever we go, our home never leaves us. We are always Razorbacks. We are always Arkansans. Even better, Arkansas waits patiently for our return, cheering us on. Hoping for our best.

The funny feeling I have had the last few weeks of missing home has not so much been a sad one but a steady reminder of who I am and the pride of the state and home I represent.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rewriting my story

By any measure, it was a beautiful morning. Cool blue skies were a welcome relief for Virginia and the nation's capitol. The lazy days of summer were beginning to give way to the fall and a return to normal. For a region defined by hustle and bustle, there was a certain serenity to the moment.

That was this morning.

I woke up in my apartment just blocks from the Pentagon and couldn't help but think about how my story has changed dramatically in the last 3,287 days.

The first Sept. 11th happened my junior year of high school. Not just that year, but while I was on our junior class trip to Washington D.C. That was another idyllic morning in D.C. Clear blue skies, on a cool fall morning, it was a perfect day. The highlight of our trip was the tour of the White House that was supposed to start between 9:30 and 10:00 that morning.

When we arrived at the White House, one of our group got a call from her dad asking to talk to the trip leader. At first, I was surprised that someone had a cellphone they brought with them since roaming charges were crazy, but I was soon more concerned with the look on our leader's face. From what I could eavesdrop from the conversation, a plane had flown into one of the buildings of the World Trade Center. This was odd, but I knew that happened sometimes with skyscrapers - in my mind nothing would stand in the way of my dream of visiting the White House.

That all changed when I heard them discuss a second plane. Everything went too fast from that point. Guards began to scramble into and out of the buildings around the White House, shotguns, bulletproof vests, then assault rifles... About that time we were encourageed to clear the grounds - by running, not walking, running. Our group fled to our bus and headed out of town but had to pass by the Pentagon on I-395. By then, we had heard what had happened and sure enough, there was a hole and billows of smoke. Problem is we had to drive past on a road that was being shut down. Thankfully a firefighter spotted our bus as a school group and made us one of the last vehicles to pass by.

We made it home to Little Rock the next day, still unsure of what all we had seen and what had happened. None of us knew the gravity of the situation until we pulled into the church parking lot to find everyone we knew and tv camera crews ready to greet us. We weren't quite sure what, but we knew we had survived.

The next few weeks, the story was all we talked about. Everyone wanted to know how it felt, what we thought, and what it was like. But as always happens with time, the story started to fade. It got shorter. Fewer people wanted to listen. Or maybe I got tired of telling it.

College came and went. Then seminary and grad school. Memories came back last summer when I lived up here while working at my internship, but it was a short trip and life got back to normal. Since moving up here in August, I have thought about just how much things have changed and today of days it is worth considering.

It has been nine years since that day, but I am on a path that is no doubt impacted by what happened. After all, it was the process of coming to grips with how my world had changed that I became interested in politics and government. I majored in political science, got my masters in public administration and now am working on a law degree. I may not have thought about that last September day on a regular basis in class, but it was no doubt the driving force behind where I am today.

My trip has brought me full circle. Not just to D.C., but even to the place I live. See, my apartment building is on the otherside of where I sat on I-395 watching smoke pour out of the Pentagon. On my right that day, a burning building symbolized a change in my future. I geuss i should have just looked to my left to see what exactly that might mean.

Nine years later, in exactly the same place, I look back to where I have come from wondering where it is taking me next.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Step 1: Try not to look like an idiot

"Back to school, back to school, to prove to dad I'm not a fool..."
- Billy Madison

During our law school orientation, one of the professors turned motivational speakers told us that law school was more like high school than we could imagine. Not withstanding his years of wisdom, I'd have to say that it might be alot more like junior high. See, I am now two weeks into law school and feel that I still spend 80% of my day trying not to look like an idiot - just like junior high. Here's why...

First, I have a locker with a combination lock that I use sparingly because I end up carrying around all of my belongings like a hobo riding trains cross country. I mean you never know when you will have 30 seconds to go to your locker that is literally 4 feet away from your classroom where you have back to back classes. I mean, why play with fire? Have I mentioned that going to law school has made me lose all sense of reason? More on that later.

Second, I become irrationally nervous about stupid things such as walking down the hall. To my credit, picture this, you have 75 to 100 people in each of the first year sections getting out of class at the same time and having to walk through the same narrow hallways to get to their next class. Add to that the fact that all of us have the nervous disposition of a rabid chipmunk. Oh, and don't forget that we are all carrying everything we own in massive backpacks. People don't come out alive. True story. In another lifetime, called high school, I used to make fun of junior high kids for doing the exact same thing. They would break into a sweat running to their next class like they were the only ones on the Titanic to get out of the lowest decks. I now call that Thursday.

Third, I quit using deoderant and inexplicably starting wearing my hair in a different style that involves a cowlick-flip in the front. Ok, not really, but it could happen. I am only two weeks into this thing.

Updates to come...