That I am an Alabama alumni is not a surprise to many of y’all. I grew up cheering for Alabama football. My own relationship as an enthusiastic fan of football is waning. The evidence of CTE makes watching the sport less and less enjoyable knowing the cost some of its players will pay.
I was out and about on Saturday, celebrating a parishioner’s birthday with lunch, checking out the grand opening of World Market, and attending a fundraiser for the Lexington Humane Society. In between those events, a fellow Alabama alum and more dedicated football fan than I texted me about the grave injury that happened in the game to the Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. He sustained a dislocated hip with a posterior wall fracture.
He’s clearly out for the season. He may be done playing big time football forever.
As I prayed Compline before bed, I held the image of that young man in prayer. We forget he’s really still a kid in many ways, lying in a hospital bed, awaiting experts and their diagnoses and treatments, wondering if the life he’d planned, the life he’d dedicated thousands of hours to, is done.
I thought about his parents and their worry, probably catching in their voices even as they tell him all of this will be okay. I thought of the coaches and all the second-guessing that is almost inevitably part of being indirectly involved in a tragic life-changing moment. What if, why did, did we…all of that fills the room, fills the souls of those who are reminded that life is so very random, so very not as much in our control as we always want to believe.
I’ve been in that room with parents, with spouses, with children, with loved ones in the aftermath of an unexpected health catastrophe, although my experience is that most health catastrophes are almost always unexpected. Some loved ones come into the room to sit for as long as they need to be present. They hold hands and check that the covers are tucked in and make small talk with the nurses when they come in to change IV bags. One person is randomly designated the contact person, answering the phone and responding to texts. “Yes, you should come. No, we don’t know more.”
I’ve been in that room as some come inside the room for an instant and offer a moment of laughter with guarded humor, grasping at any of the resources we have in our souls to make this better, even for a small moment. Something, surely, will make it better. “He liked jokes. I know he can hear. He’d be glad you came,” someone offers. Others wait outside, as if not coming in the room and seeing the reality of the situation will make it less true.
I’ve been in that room as we wait for the doctors to deliver the news, some news, any news. Sometimes the news is good and hopeful, and everyone lets out the breath they didn’t realize they were holding. More than not, the words are vague and a source of moderate hope, but filled with more unknowns, more questions, more silence as tears are held back until we step outside so she won’t see how upset we are and he will know we are still expecting the best. Then there are the times the words are what we never want to hear. The doctor speaks, and then there is silence. That holy, heartbreaking silence that is indeed too deep for words.
I’ve been in that room, offering prayers, which I know are helpful but often, in these moments, seem small and insignificant. I know they aren’t, and I also know how much I would give for this not to be happening, for these people not to be gathered here in the midst of this tragedy, this heartbreak. More useful seem to be the tissues I hand to people, along with the implicit permission to weep. “Have you eaten?” I always ask. Trauma either makes us ravenous or allergic to food – almost no in-betweens. I can’t undo this situation, but I can get coffee.
“What if…why…how?” someone inevitably whispers. I learned long ago those aren’t really questions. They are laments to God, the anguish of the harsh reminder of just how vulnerable our human bodies are.
Tonight, a star quarterback for Alabama is in this room, and, with the family’s well-known Christian faith, I am sure their pastor is in that room with them, offering prayers and presence. Tua does not seem to be in a life-threatening situation, and there is still trauma, prayers, worry, and trepidation. There is still unknown in the room with them.
I’m also aware that this same night, hundreds of others are in these rooms, in the midst of tragedy. They aren’t celebrities, so not as many people are saying prayers or asking how they can help. Their families and loved ones are gathered, holding hands, waiting, praying. All the hope and heartbreak are sitting in these rooms, too. Perhaps they feel too alone in these rooms. Perhaps they are alone.
Maybe in our prayers, we can remember them and those who love them, those who are in these rooms tonight.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.