Monday, May 11, 2015

A Mother's Day Tribute of a Different Kind: Remembering a XC Parent

It was fun to notice the many way even the sports world caught on to honoring the special women we know as "mom" on this Mother's Day. NBA Cares ran ads during the play-off games of LeBron James, Stephen Curry and other post-season players with the women who had a big hand in getting them there—their moms. A special feature during "The Players Championship" at TPC Sawgrass included pre-recorded interviews of golfers with their moms. The 2015 champion, Rickie Fowler and his mother laughed about the fact in spite of his success, he still knows who is boss. Even Sports Illustrated ran a compelling piece "Look at Me Now: Sorry Dads—Maternal Figures are Dominant in the NBA." And with this blog posting I would like to offer one of my own. 
As a high school teacher, I don't get to know that many parents all that often. For one, I have over 100 students and four classes, and students have six or seven other teachers. Furthermore, high school is a time for adolescents to learn to advocate for themselves—for their grades, opportunities, letters of recommendation, playing time and for the next step—college. Usually, parents only step in when and as needed (but not always!). While I meet a lot of parents at Back to School night, the evening is a fast paced "meet and greet." And the four years of high school somehow fly by way too fast. Before you know it, a student and his/her family has come and gone.

As a coach, I have come to see that in high school sports, parents can be a mixed blessing. Many are supportive with offering to help in any way they can. Thank God for these parents! They feed us, they help other kids with transportation, they maintain respectful boundaries and want to see their son or daughter succeed competitively, socially, emotionally, and more. However, others can be difficult. Questions about why our line-up is the way it is, why something can't be different or what they expect out of their child can be challenging. Some sports have it worse. Issues like cuts or playing time abound. Unfortunately, nothing's that simple, is it?

Regardless, coaching cross country and crew has afforded me the opportunity to meet many wonderful people. I have met moms and dads who are unbelievably generous, fun and interesting. A few have even become friends. I feel so blessed to have met some great parents who I admire and respect. One of those is Margaret Smith.

The eldest of her two daughters, Erin ran cross country for four years and served as a team captain. I remember meeting Margaret at an invitational early in the season during Erin's freshman year. In a short amount of time, Erin had made some big improvements. We were all very excited about her progress, but honestly, we were a little surprised. And when I say "we," I mean Erin herself, her mom, her teammates and her coaches. That being said, I could tell that Margaret was thrilled to see her daughter in this capacity. When Erin was asked to train with the varsity girls at the end of her freshman year, no one was more excited and supportive than Erin's mom. She never overstepped any boundaries. She checked in with us as needed and always showed up on time, with a smile and a presence that said "if you want to talk, I am here to listen."

The girls cross country coaches and I were delighted we would have another Smith this past fall, when Shannon joined our team. That incredible Smith smile can't be mistaken just anywhere. Margaret came to us with that same look of "I'm here to help in anyway I can." She was happy to be present for another era in SI girls cross country. She wanted Shannon to have her own experience in the sport and again, she supported her daughter in the best way she could.

Because I believe in the Communion of Saints, I believe Margaret can and will continue to do that, but, it will be in a much different context. Margaret Smith died on Thursday morning in a car crash; she was 49 years old. She was driving with her husband and two children in their SUV on Highway I-5 to Southern California to pick up Erin.

The counselors at school informed the cross country coaches of this tragedy early that morning. Our team has been informally meeting and will be formally meeting to support Shannon, Erin and their family. 

I have no idea how we can support two young women who have lost their mother, but part of me thinks it has something to do with the image that I carry of her in my heart. She is a parent I got to know because she showed up for their meets, one who was ready to talk, listen or ask questions when needed. I see her standing beside the cross country trail—smiling, fully present, open and warm. 

On Mother's Day, we honor and celebrate the women who gave us life. But we are tasked with remembering them too. When MLK was killed RFK shared these words"

He said, "My favorite poem, my—my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God."

The awful grace of God in this instance has reminded me of what we already know—every day is a gift. And so too is the meeting of another person who leaves a legacy on the cross country trail—of her children and her warm, kind presence.

A cross country race comes to an end; there is always a finish line. But I truly believe life is different. Death is not the end, but an invitation to something much different. I hope and pray the love that Margaret and her family had for one another can find some small strength for the journey in that belief. 


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