Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sports Can Provide: "A Little of that Human Touch"

I have no idea if you work place is anything like mine. But since the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis, something has changed. Colleagues are excited, hopeful, even joyful when speaking about the Church leadership. A small part of me keeps waiting for the shoe to drop, but for now I will enjoy the ride. It's been a nice change of pace.
Case in point, one of the "resident critics" had us gather around his computer to watch a video clip entitled "Pope descended Pope mobile to bless disabled man before Inagural Mass." He pressed replay with tears in his eyes.  We saw the Holy Father go out of his way, much to the dismay of his security team, to meet a severely disabled man.  When Pope Francis reaches him, he kisses his forehead and touches his shoulder to their mutual delight. The Pope exchanges words with the man's caregiver and he returns again to this man and blesses him. 

I wondered why I was so moved by something so simple.  I decided it was time I take off the rose colored glasses I've been wearing with this new papacy and revisit my question.  What is the big deal? Why was my heart bursting?  

I've said it once and I'll say it again, or Springsteen will (excuse me!) "It's a little of that Human Touch."

For the first few years of our lives, we are enveloped by it.  We are held, passed from family member to family member--hugged and kissed, loved and blessed.  I remember with great fondness one uncle who always said to my sister and me, "I love my nieces to pieces" as he tortured us with affection.  As we grow older, how we express affection changes and during our teenage years, it is tricky.  

Adolescence is a time when young men and women who want love and affection have difficulty figuring out how they can express it.
Girls have a little more liberty in sharing hugs with one another and affection to their parents. For boys, its not a given. Sure, there are outliers and I can think of a a few special ones, like Brett.  Officially the "strongest man in the school" this linebacker ate the "750 lb. club" for lunch. For Brett, "Thou-Pow" was his main meal (that's a combined total of 1000 lbs between the dead lift, squat and bench press).  

He gave hugs to men and women, boys and girls.  His embrace was beloved.  It always brought a smile to the victim and the perpetrator.  But Brett stands out because albeit a wonderful and open expression of healthy affection, it was the exception—not the rule.  Was it safe for Brett to be openly affectionate with his peers because he was so comfortable in his own skin?  Yes. Would others be this way if they could?  I think so...  

Regardless, the question remains: Where are teens finding love, acceptance and affection? I realized it isn't in a way the media often portrays a drunken hook-up or only on prom night.  No--there's a very real place for high school males to openly share affection—and they are already doing it, perhaps without even knowing it. It's on the volleyball and basketball court, the football field, and even at the finish line. It's in sports.

I attended a varsity boys volleyball game on the same day I saw the aforementioned Papal video.  I never leave one of their games without some sort of impression or appreciation.  On this day, I noticed just how much "human touch" takes place on and off the court.  Guys are subbed in frequently; one won't leave the court without a high five to his teammate.  Good hits, bad hits, missed hits and winners all bring a number of guys to reach out to one another--knuckle tap, to a slap on the butt, a shoulder meet shoulder jump in the air, a low five or a high five.  They say we need "6 hugs a day and 12 for growth." This team is meeting their quota and going beyond.
I know this creates a bond among players; coaches are equally affectionate.  In a society that all too often knows affection in a way that has been compromised or exploited, this was a breath of fresh air. I applaud this team and their coaches for giving these young men a safe place to recreate, work toward a common goal and care for one another in the process.  I hope and pray they are one of many teams that offers the gift of love.

Many cultures express affection more comfortably and naturally than Americans do. It must be those Puritanical roots.  It reaches a deep human need. I was reminded of that need in watching Pope Francis.  He met a stranger with open arms. He was moved by his spirit enough to kiss, touch and bless him. He was responding to his humanity and a fundamental desire we all share—to love and to be loved. Sports teams at their best can offer a place for this to happen—with a little human touch.

Photo Credits
Pope Frances touches man

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Boys VB

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