Sunday morning I put on my lucky orange pants for the last time this season. I didn’t know it at the time of course, although I had an inkling. That is, after all, the nature of the post-season – survive and advance or lose and go home.
One year ago, I stood in a similar stadium, watching Virginia play the very same team, and there wasn’t a single part of me that believed it would be the last time. Hope is a funny thing that way.
But one year ago, I didn’t know what I do know. That you cannot will something to be simply because you believe. One year ago, I hadn’t yet listened to the voices of the paramedics performing CPR on my dad. I hadn’t held my child and told him everything was going to be okay, even though I knew it wasn’t. In my head I knew. But my heart still believed in the improbable. As my brain was busy calculating the ugly logistics of death, my heart was exhilarating in the moment that was surely ahead of us when the doctors would joyfully tell us of the medical miracle that they had performed.
There is something intoxicating about hope in a moment like that, when you are standing on the precipice of a something great or something terrible and you don’t yet know which one it will be.
You know the kind of moment I’m talking about – the one right before the ball tips, before you step on stage, before you open a letter from a college, before a kiss you have wanted for a long time. The moment right before the doctors tell you there was nothing they could do. The one where hope and fear collide in your chest like two prize fighters going at each other in the ninth round.
The moment when everything is still possible.
And as I stood in the stadium on Sunday, I knew that was moment I wanted to remember. I closed my eyes and heard the cheers from the 20,000 people around me and let them reverberate in my head. I thought about all of the games I had watched with my dad. I thought about the joy that this team gave my little boy when he was so defeated by pain that he couldn’t walk.
Mostly, I thought about this crazy love I have and how it has helped me heal. I closed my eyes and carefully etched every detail into my brain so I could recall that feeling when I ache with loss or fear or disappointment.
For better or for worse, I placed the full weight of my loss and the force of my love on the shoulders of this team, this season. Some people have therapy. I have basketball.
They got concussions, broken noses, broken fingers and emergency appendectomies and just kept winning. They got called boring and bad for basketball and just kept winning. They scrapped and they readjusted and just kept winning. They gave my boys heroes to look up to, not because of what they did but because of who they are. They gave me their court to celebrate my own victories, to grieve my own losses and to make my own readjustments.
They gave me 34 moments where everything was still possible.
I got home Sunday night and unpacked my suitcase. And I sat on the floor and cried. An ugly, soul-cleansing kind of cry. Not because we lost. But because it was over. Out of that suitcase came not just orange pants and blue shirts but every tear I have not shed since July. Every phone call I had to make. Every form I had to fill out. Every time I have feared that I am not enough. Every time I told my mom I was proud of her for doing something she didn’t think she could do. Every time we have readjusted and scrapped and kept going. Every time I ached to hear my dad’s voice. Every time I worried that my boys will never know him the way I did.
The season didn’t end the way I wanted. But maybe it ended the way I needed it to. Sitting on the floor of my room, unpacking all the things that finally needed to be put away.
Right before the game on Sunday, my friend Ron waved me down to the court during pregame warmups. He held my shaking hands in his, hugged me, and said “It’s going to be okay.”
And it is going to be okay.
Because we survive and advance. Even when we lose.