With 20 minutes to spare before our tee time, my friends and I walked up to the snack bar, and stood behind a sea of Tar Heel blue. I took inventory: 6 young men were wearing the same collared zip sweatshirt and hat, replete with interlocking NC logos. To their right stood a man slightly older than them in the same Carolina blue. I smiled at him and said "Coach, are you playing in a tourney here today?" We talked and I came to learn they were practicing before the NCAA Men's Golf Regional at Stanford University. I looked at the ACC logo on his sleeve and asked "How many ACC teams will be there?" I paused and pointed to my own jacket and said, "For example, will Notre Dame be there?!" I smiled again.
We represent our schools, causes, country and state, sports teams and clubs, passions and people all the time in ways both big and small. From a logo on your favorite sweatshirt to a sticker on your car window, we do a lot of marketing without even knowing it! We promote and publicize our allegiances before and after game day. I love connecting with others in this way.
However, today I was reminded that representing our school, our place of work, our alma mater or a community of personal import with a hat or shirt, golf bag or jacket isn't something we should treat lightly. Why? Because whether we know it or not, we send messages to others all the time. We observe color and symbol. We take inventory and look up and down, far and wide, and we take notice. What do they say? How do they say it. Indeed, people infer and deduce quite a bit about who we are with words and perhaps more loudly without them.
For example, from time to time, I can be an aggressive driver. I have cut other cars off or switched lanes at the last minute, holding other vehicles back. It's not ok—and I know this by an action I consciously and subconsciously take. On the driver side window of my Jeep is a sticker that reads "University of Notre Dame Alumni." This gold square has an interlocking ND in the middle of it. When I have been a selfish person behind the wheel, I roll down that window. I don't want anyone to see that I went to Notre Dame. I don't want them to associate this gesture with other alumni. To some people that might sound ridiculous but to me, it's how I feel. I want others to have respect for ND graduates rather than contempt. A tall order I know, but I look at others in a similar vein.
This truth was reflected back to me in an unusual experience when my friends and I went to tee off—post snack bar—for our round of golf. The two men in front of us were late and should have joined the twosome they were paired with. Rather than apologize or explain what went wrong, one man put the issue back on me. He was defensive and corrected me on the time (NB: it's a near cardinal sin to be late in golf....a 12:50 tee time means you should be in the tee box and ready to go ten minutes prior). I was shocked at how caustic and unfriendly he was in the circumstance. His arrogance did not just affect me and my friends, but the line of golfers after us. Everyone makes mistakes! This was not the end of the world, but a simple apology...a "my bad" or "we'll do what we can to catch up with the other two" would have been appropriate and appreciated.
As I sought to make sense of what transpired, I looked at the bag of this golfer. On this faded red bag was the head of a Bronco; that meant he went to, and most likely played at Santa Clara University. I then caught sight of four letters embroidered on the side; it said AMDG. That was tough to see.
Students at Jesuit schools write AMDG at the top of a paper or beside their name as they begin an exam. Some place AMDG on their artwork; others let this motto serve as the header for an important essay. AMDG or “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam,” is the Latin motto for the Society of Jesus meaning "for the greater glory of God."
AMDG is not meant to be another decoration. AMDG is far from a marketing tool; the spirit of this motto should never ring hollow or untrue. The athletic director has told me that his biggest fear is someone will come up to a student and ask them "What does AMDG stand for and they won't know the answer." Therefore, coaches are called to actively lead with AMDG in mind and teach what it means: athletes are instructed to compete in a way that gives glory to God. They are reminded that sports is another way we can use our gifts and talents not just for personal gain, but as part of something much bigger than ourselves. Those letters are printed on team jerseys lest anyone forget.....and as I saw on the course today, on golf bags.
I have wondered how today's encounter with these two golfers could have been different. Thinking about it now, I think I would let those four letters: AMDG factor into our exchange. I wish I had paused. I wish I had given some silence after I asked what was going on (they knew). I wish I had said "Did you play at Santa Clara? I see AMDG on your bag." I don't know that things would have been any different, but I think I would be. AMDG means something to me. I know what it is and what it is not. That was far from how that motto is and what it calls us to be.
Again, all stones are cast to the side. I own my limitations and failings—but I am also an ambassador of the the places that have formed me, the communities I represent, my schools and teams, families and friends whether I want to admit it or not. In other words, I will do better behind the wheel so I don't have to roll that window down. I hope you will consider what this means in your life...
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