Sometimes you’re surrounded by hundreds of people in every direction, but you feel alone.
Last night was the home opener for the Franklin High School football team, playing against its rival Brentwood I arrived a little after the start with my 12-year-old daughter Olivia and her friend Grace, and we parked far away and walked across the grassy east side of the campus and around the stadium, finally getting to the entrance where a long line of people were still waiting to buy $7 tickets for admission. Once we went inside the girls happily took off to join other middle schoolers. My older daughter, 17-year-old Aly, was in another part of the stadium with her own friends, and I did not see her the entire night (but we did text).
I weaved in and out of the adults, young and old, who were watching the game or talking among themselves along the perimeter surrounding the north end zone. And a familiar but unsettling sensation bubbled up inside of me. I felt as if I were back in my own middle school, feeling a bit detached, wanting to be noticed and yet at the same time desiring to be left alone in my awkward geek-dom. High school was quite a bit better, but still loaded with that frequent observation of being alone in the crowd. And I’ve felt it almost every time I’ve come to an event at one of my daughter’s schools during the past five years; these post-marriage years, the era of making my way and figuring things out as a single dad, a time of both tremendous growth and cathartic pain.
It’s funny how the professional and personal things you accomplish in life, and the deepening awareness you experience across the decades, do not fully dissolve those little souvenirs that remain from your formative years. Such remnants differ for each person. For me it’s that pervasive sense of loneliness that likes to occasionally remind me that I’m still frail and human and fuels my empathy for others. For many people the pain, and possible trauma, that they’ve carried with them might be far more intense. Perhaps I should be grateful for the ability, as a white male of significant privilege when compared to much of the country and the world, to have the ability to simply be invisible when I want to be.
By the end of the first quarter I found my newer friend Wayne, whose daughter cheers with Olivia at the middle school. We hung out and chit-chatted for the duration of my time there. I’m always grateful for a friend. It usually only takes one interested person to lift my spirits and help me to feel that connection that can be so elusive at times.
I hope I’m cognizant of the numerous moments across a day when someone else needs me to be that interested person, and I give them the gift of such connection.