I talked a bit a few blogs ago about my eclectic (or bizarre as the case may be) music tastes and my need for music as an escape and a pathway to seeing the small miracles in my life. Paul Carrack’s (former lead singer for Squeeze and part-time singer for Mike + The Mechanics) “Don’t Shed A Tear” served both roles for me about this time twenty years ago.
This wasn’t just my angry response to allowing a former crush to mess with my future, my status as a student, my understanding of myself as a young and albeit naive young man. Sure, when I sang to the refrain “Don’t shed a tear for me/my life won’t end without you,” I did it because I was pissed and because I knew I needed to move on. But the song was also reaching another part of me. It fit my need to find a silver lining even in the middle of what felt like heartbreak at the time. The song’s refrain was also me affirming that I would get back on track, find my way, succeed despite how hurt I still felt.
Of course, I combined “Don’t Shed A Tear” with my other form of escape — sports — as a message that even in po-dunk Pittsburgh I could expect life to have a soft side, even a side of small miracles. Super Bowl XXII served in that role of small miracle. And though I see the silliness of this now, that game stood out as a symbol that anyone can have a perfect day at some point in their lives. Doug Williams, the first and so far only African American quarterback to win a Super Bowl — this with the Washington Redskins — was supposed to be on his last legs, having spent so much of his talent with the hilariously awful Tampa Bay Bucs of the late-70s and early ’80s. The media spent most of their time on Denver Broncos’ John Elway — “The man with the golden arm” as one broadcaster had said — and discussed Williams mostly as an afterthought. I sat in the common room area of my dorm eating a plate of spaghetti and meat sauce that I had prepared (my first “home cooked” meal since I came to Pitt) as Williams threw four touchdown passes in the second quarter. I could only laugh as the Broncos had managed to give up 35 points in a little more than ten minutes.
It wasn’t so much that I felt pride in Doug Williams’ accomplishment, although I did feel that. It was more the realization that I needed not to listen to the things that others said about me. It made me realize that it was more important to listen to myself, to see myself as successful. That I could overcome anything and anyone in order to be the person I wanted to be. That’s the lesson that I took from that game.
Songs like “Don’t Shed A Tear” and games like Super Bowl XXII had also taught me two other important lessons. One, that just because someone’s been anointed a winner or successful doesn’t mean that their victory is guaranteed. Elway and the Broncos had lost two Super Bowls in a row, including the one to my Giants the year before. They would lose another one two years later, an embarrassing 55-10 to the 49ers. I feel the same way this week with the Giants playing Tom Brady and the Patriots. With people anointing the Patriots as the greatest ever in this watered-down era of the NFL seems somewhere between premature and arrogant. Win or lose, I think that we do each other a disservice when we put folks on pedestals.
Two is that not everything that I’ve had or would have to fight for in life would be impossibly hard. Some things will come with relative ease. Some of the things in my life that I value the most have come with work but with some degree of ease. Because of my previous experiences, the classroom side of graduate school actually felt easier than any other part of my education outside of elementary school. Dating became amazingly easy once I turned twenty-two and especially after turning twenty-five, I’m not sure why. But even in these, it takes patience and applied wisdom — either through experience or inspired epiphanies — to make the difficult into something that is easy to overcome. It’s hard to believe that I pulled this out of the lyrics of one song and from watching a football game, but people like me have to get inspiration from somewhere.