“Struck me kinda funny
Kinda funny, sir, indeed
Still at the end of every hard earned day
People find some reason to believe.”
— Bruce Springsteen
It was a long, hard, hot summer in the Hill Country. We had almost two-dozen days of triple digit temperatures. The heat and humidity were unrelenting, like trying to breathe through a steamy, hot washcloth. Before my daily morning run I’d look for some minuscule, easy-to-miss portent that summer’s death grip might break and fall would eventually arrive – a cool breeze, a smell in the air, anything. All I found was heat and sweat – dripping off my nose, stinging my eyes, baptizing the toes of my Asics.
Summer kept up her unrelenting oppression. Within a one-week period, I had a dog drop dead unexpectedly, found out my amazing, supportive school principal took a job in Brownwood, and had an incident of vicious religious ugliness directed at me that was severe enough Valerie and I felt we needed to change churches.
Will this ever end? Will it ever be cool again? Will fall ever get here? Will joy ever push through the crack in the sidewalk to bloom again?
I looked for a sign, an omen from the gods, a word from the oracle, anything. All I found instead was the worst, most dispiriting presidential election of my lifetime. Facebook, instead of being some type of sanctuary where people my age could blather on and on about their grandkids, became a fetid, stinking cesspool of misogyny, xenophobia, fear-mongering, paranoia, and mean-spiritedness.
Is anybody ever actually going to talk about, for example, the policy implications of a $15.00 minimum wage? It stifles job growth and disproportionally effects small, struggling businesses versus it gives the working poor a chance to find decent housing and day care? Do we actually talk about, you know, politics anymore?
If I wanted to watch Punch and Judy, I’d go to a renaissance carnival. If I want to hear petty, ad hominem, nanny-nanny-boo-boo, I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I name calling, I’d walk over to the 6th grade wing of the middle school where I teach.
Or the teachers’ lounge.
Or College Station. Whatever.
Still, I need something – anything – some reason to believe. A reason to believe summer will eventually give way to fall. A reason to hope our republic is not hopelessly bought and paid for by big-money donors, eternally gridlocked in rank partisanship, and permanently gutted of meaning by the gnat-long attention span of some Americans.
I need to believe that in a sea of “Shut Up and Dance with Me,” there is another Clash, another Earth, Wind & Fire, another Beatles, another Al Green, another great band just waiting to unleash their fury, poetry, and soulfulness on the listening public.
More to the point, I need the footballs to be good. I can endure a great many things in life when my beloved, mighty, fighting Texas Longhorns are playing well. The decade since our national championship has been the ultimate example of a long, hot, frustrating, unforgiving summer.
Coach Strong, I know you are trying hard to build something lasting, and I am grateful for your work, character, and leadership. Problem is, 5-7 leaves me without hope. Being shut out by Iowa State gives me no reason to believe. Two years of a flailing, failing offense makes me question whether the time, money, and passion I pour into my love affair with Longhorn football is a fool’s errand.
Coach, I don’t need us to be magnificent against Notre Dame; I just need to be reminded that magnificence is possible. I need some assurance that the immense stockpile of talent you brought to the 40 Acres actually means something. I need to see kids in positions that maximize their talent. I need to see our defense line up correctly, be in the right position, and knock the Aggie out of somebody. I want to see us spread the field on offense, get the ball to speedy guys in space, and run the ball with malicious intent.
In any system of belief – in God, America, a spouse, a child, a philosophy, or the University – there is an unspoken element of doubt. We call it “faith” precisely because we can never be certain. Bravely confronting our doubts is one of the hardest, most honest and sobering things we do as adults. Jacob wrestled the angel until the break of day.
I can keep wrestling for a very long time – as long as I have some reason to believe.
A 1986 graduate of the University of Texas, Jeff Conner has held many jobs in his life: husband, brother, uncle, son, oil field roustabout, short-order cook, sandblaster, irrigation pipe mover, musician, retail assistant manager, attorney-at-law, public school teacher, preacher, cartoonist and writer. While he does have a hot, young wife, Conner is neither as clever nor as good-looking as he believes himself to be. Jeff is currently teaching 8th grade math and Pre-A.P. algebra in Taylor, Texas, home of the Fighting Ducks. Conner’s regularly submitted commentary appears in InsideTexas.com and Inside Texas Magazine. The opinions presented do not necessarily reflect the views of the Inside Texas editorial staff