"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.