Video still suspended on the internet, weathermen almost screaming fear and warning,
Maps lit up with horrible storms, bright, rotating monsters
And the skycams filming it
Dark rumbling cone of cloud, wider and firmer, roaring down,
Swallowing places we all recognized, this street corner, that road, this hospital and the University itself
Gobbled into darkness
We sat watching helplessly in what passes for our safe place
Terrified for people we know and can’t call or get to
Just sat there, watching, listening, praying in a basement or a closet
Now it lives on YouTube and in children’s nightmares
Fear comes out of nowhere, rumbling into a sunny place and wipes it out
We still remember . How can you forget 63 tornadoes,
Taking down a state a town at a time? Houses blown apart, unglued matchsticks
Flying everywhere. That was the picture everyone shared
But it’s the million snapshots, most of them not taken
Sagging shoulders of an old man and his wife looking at the wreckage of sixty years
A family crying over photographs and precious pets and dead neighbors
Burying the body of a son or a mother or a friend
Who committed no crime against nature that took their life.
The foolish weakness of our lives pitted against something so vast that we shrank away
Our hearts melted, our schedules crashed, our computers went dead with no grid to hook to
Agendas changed, all the foolishness swept away into immediate priority
Only holding the people we love, finding the body of a lost daughter
Feeding a neighbor who was hungry and broke
Losing a job that blew away in a second. Going to church when it mattered
Listening for God when God seemed gone
Oh, we remember a million snapshots, of a child calling, “I’m okay,” of a house that used to be
Where a neighbor and his wife died, their bodies snapped like twigs and tossed into an undignified heap
Diapers and receipts and toys and furniture, curtains and unrecognizable slivers, trashbags and deck chairs
Wood and metal and rope and canvas, slung in no pattern, no priority and with no respect for their value
Gone, gone, gone, a house, a town, a store where we shopped, a friend we knew,
A way of life we lived, a sense of safety with which we deluded ourselves
But some things still didn’t blow away—faith and hope and love survived
Love for strangers fired up strong and woke us up to one another.
But we stood for a moment, blown away like the pieces of our lives and our world
Dazed, disbelief, daunted, discouraged, disheartened, darkened in soul
For just a moment, to take it in. We will never forget if we rebuild it all again
What happened that April day, when Alabama almost died.
Here in Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of our great treasures. You can still go to Monroeville, Alabama and see a live re-enactment of the story every year by the local citizenry. You start out in the yard, then move inside the courthouse, and it is eerily reminiscent of the movie because Hollywood built a replica of it for the film. When I went with friends a few years back, I felt a flash of shame and pain when the n-word was uttered while African American locals up in the balcony were in our presence. I was embarrassed. So we’ve made some progress, I guess. As a child in North Carolina the word was uttered around me thoughtlessly, as a part of an unquestioned culture of resentment and vulnerable entitlement. Read the rest of this entry
The Texas A&M Aggies are coming into the Southeastern Conference. Actually, A&M is a terrific school, great pride, wonderful spirit that borders on fanaticism, and their fans are abolute lunatics, which means they’ll barely be noticed in the SEC. I remember as a Baylor grad student going to the games during the days of Mike Singletary and Walter Abercrombie (I saw Bear Bryant coach live one time, when Alabama creamed the Bears 34-2 at the Cotton Bowl in 1982. It is the only bowl game I ever attended. The next closest big game I attended live was Mexico versus South Korea in Olympic Soccer in Birmingham.
Well, about those Aggies, SEC fans. We have come to be accustomed to high quality football, of course, and big ole’ universities. I need to prepare my fans for some things about Texas A&M and their fans. First, if you think Bama and Auburn fans are nuts, wait ’til the Aggies arrive. They have so many traditions and fanatic fans that you’ll feel right at home. They don’t have cheerleaders like most schools. Sorry, but an awful lot of cheerleading today actually looks like a gymnastic meet that didn’t finish before the football games started, so it’s going on over there but no one is watching. Not so with the Aggies–they have “yell leaders.” Their fans (the student body, anyway) stand for the entire game. They follow intricate hand signals by which they know to yell. Some of their yells are described in the Wikipedia article on the subject:
- “After the signals are passed through the crowd, the Yell Leaders give the signal to “hump it”, where the crowd leans forward and places their hands on their knees to maximize the noise.” (This did make me curious. If you arch your back and lean forward, what sort of noise do you maximize?)
- “The Yell Leaders have a dozen yells that they can choose from depending on the situation. While some yells are designed to praise and motivate the team, others exist solely to make fun of the opposing side.“
- “Students practice the yells at Midnight Yell Practice. Held at Kyle Field at midnight the night before a football game, Midnight Yell is similar to a pep rally. Over 20,000 Aggies attend each session, practicing the yells that will be used in the following day’s game and generating an excitement for the game. At the conclusion of the yell practice, the stadium lights are extinguished and fans kiss their dates. This is also done as practice, because Aggies are expected to “mug down”, or kiss their dates, every time the football team scores on the field. Sports Illustrated named Midnight Yell as one of the “100 Things You Gotta Do Before You Graduate.” “ Gotta admit, this is pretty great.
- “Aggies practice their yells again after each football game. If the team is victorious, the freshmen in the Corps of Cadets capture the Yell Leaders on Kyle Field and march them across campus to be dunked in Fish Pond. The very wet Yell Leaders then make their way to the YMCA Building, where the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band and members of the crowd join them for a short yell practice in preparation for the next week’s game. “ Uh, well.
- “ Booing is strongly discouraged, and an upset Aggie will instead hiss their opponents or the referees. If a referee call is especially egregious in the minds of the Aggies, the Yell Leaders will call for the “Horse Laugh,” a yell that ends with a stadium wide hissing.“
- “After each yell, students make a noise and a hand motion that is known as a wildcat. Each class has a separate wildcat, and students caught “pulling out,” or using the wildcat of a higher class, are often forced to do pushups as punishment.
So, it’s going to be interesting, welcoming Aggies here. They show up at games in droves, spend a lot of money when they come, and are generally great folks. But the good part is that you will get to tell “Aggie jokes.” These were quite popular when I lived in Texas. Jokes like:
- Hear about the Aggie farmer who got his tractor hung in reverse and unplowed seven acres?
- Did you hear about the Aggie terrorist who tried to blow up the Longhorn team bus.? He burned his lip on the tailpipe.
- There was this Texas highway patrolman who saw an Aggie on I-35, hitchhiking with a pig beside him. He pulled over. “Son, what on earth are you doing here?” Hitchhiking to Dallas, he was told. “Well, it’s illegal to have animals here on the interstate. There’s a petting zoo at the next exit. Why don’t you take your pig there? Otherwise, I’ll run you in.” “Yes, sir,” he said. Well, the next day the officer is driving by and there is the man with the pig again. “You dimwit, didn’t I tell you to take that pig to the petting zoo?” Oh, yes sir, he was told, I did. “So what in the Sam Hill are you doing out here again?” “Well, sir,” he replied, “Me and the little feller had such a good time I’m taking him up to Six Flags.”
Wait until the Aggies start gigging, hissing and dunking each other in an SEC game. Y’all are going to fit in around here just fine.
Crazy? Consider that the average NCAA football coach makes $1.3 million annually. The average in basketball is $1.4 million. An assistant coach at Tennessee averages $369,000 per year, while universities raise tuitions and cut staff elsewhere during hard times, when the average full professor’s compensation at a doctoral program public university is $115,509. Meanwhile, UCLA will spend $185 million to renovate Pauley Pavillion, where its basketball team plays.
Nine of the coaches in the SEC make over $2 million per year. Jeremiads about football and salaries are common, I know. But think about this: TEN YEARS ago, illegal betting on college sports was a $100 billion dollar industry. Gambling addictions are now costing us about $40 billion a year in social costs. Yet when I typed in “gambling college football” into Google, the first five pages were about HOW to gamble on football.
In my state, Alabama, the average teacher makes about $46,000 a year and we’ve been cutting funding right and left. Crazy. I was sitting on a bike at the gym recently and two very well-educated middle-aged men had an intense, passionate twenty minute conversation about football. They sounded every bit like high school girls chattering about Justin Bieber. I doubt anyone can or will change any of this. Consider this a snapshot, or a mirror.
So why do storied universities with long traditions of being in a conference jump ship? It’s a rhetorical question. Same reason Arkansas jumped the same ship that A&M USED to be in. Look, I love football, baseball, basketball, all sports. But we’ve lost our minds. Don’t look, but our tractor is hung in reverse.