For Such a Time as This?


My little buddy’s biography!

The mighty Sea Lions came away with a hard-won victory today in our Upward Soccer match. Our scrappy little bunch played hard even though we were short-handed. Turns out my little home-schooled “right fielder” decided soccer just wasn’t for her so she’s done for the year. {Just a note, if you don’t know what a “right fielder” is when used as a yard stick for an athlete’s skill, you never played t-ball or coach’s pitch; if you must have some other analogy, the proper football one would be a kid who is “end, guard, and tackle.”}

But I digress.

In addition to my little star-gazer, we also missed Tru this morning. His mom sent Coach Thomas an email earlier in the week letting us know they had a family vacation planned and wouldn’t be at the game today, but I still missed him, mostly because of last week. I felt like he and I bonded during our trouncing by the vicious Otters.

To really understand this story, first, you have to know this — Tru HATES soccer. I think he’d rather slide down a jagged envelope and put the resulting paper cut into a vat of vinegar rather than play. All you have to know is his mom had to CARRY him from the car to the field for the first game. He’s done a little better since then, but he still has pretty much zero interest in the game. In our first game, we could barely keep him on the field because he kept wanting to go sit in his mom’s lap. Even when he’s on the field, he’s not crazy about sticking his leg into the cleated, shin-guarded blender that is the scrum for the ball in this level of soccer. Most of the time, he’ll be at the opposite end of the field from the action picking dandelions or looking at the clouds. If you’ve ever read the marvelous children’s book Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf, you have a COMPLETELY accurate picture of my little Tru.

Last week though, he seemed more Ferdinandesque than usual. He seemed downright sad. When it was his turn to sit out a segment, I sat down next to him on the tarp / bench. He was picking at a scab on his knee just as any little boy would, but I could tell something was serious so I leaned in to him and said, “Tru, dude, what’s wrong with you today?”

I guess this is how we looked to everyone else.

Now I was expecting a typical “Tru” answer along the lines of “I hate being out here” or “Can I go sit with my grandparents?” Instead, I got a blurting, sprawling answer that hit me like a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick. Tru said, “I just don’t feel right, Coach Shannon. I feel weird.” Not surprisingly, Tru didn’t know the word he was hunting was “depressed.” How could a little boy know such a huge word?

He continued, “I just moved up here from a place called Lexington. My mommy and daddy aren’t living together anymore and now I’ve got a new daddy and he’s okay, but he’s not my real daddy and all my friends are back there and I want mommy and daddy to get back together and I want my old room back but mommy says that’s never going to happen so I just want to go back to Grammy’s and sit in my room and play with my toys ’cause I don’t want to be around anyone but daddy is going to come get me this afternoon and Mommy seems sad about that.” He never cried. Never broke. Never even whined. Just stated the facts with all the emotion and vocabulary at his 5.5 year old disposal.

But this is pretty much how it felt.

For a long few seconds, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t trust my voice because as I sat on that paint-smeared blue tarp with a gorgeous blue sky overhead and a fresh breeze in my face, I went back. I literally saw the years melt away in some parody of a Hollywood flashback sequence. The decades fell away until it was no longer a 5.5 year old little boy and a 41 year old coach sitting side by side; it was a 5.5 year old little boy and a just barely turned 6 little boy who reached out and put a hand on Tru’s shoulder. The six-year-old was once again watching a spray painted sky blue Chevy pickup truck with two bags of clothes in the bed pulled out of the gravel driveway of a little single-wide trailer as HIS daddy drove away and began the upheaval that would define the next 30+ years of that little boy’s life.

Then just as quickly as it happened, it was over and I was “there” again. I looked at Tru and dared my voice to crack as I talked to him. I said, “Buddy, if anyone on this field right now knows what you mean, I do.”

He looked up at me and he looked so small, “My mommy and daddy split apart when I was just a tiny bit older than you. It was awful and I cried and cried for days.” He looked even sadder, “Tru, it’s never going to be ‘okay’ again. I can’t lie to you and you are way to little to understand what all I wish I could tell you, but I can tell you this . . . your mommy loves you, your daddy STILL loves you and your second daddy loves you as well and that is ALL that matters. Right now you are sad and hurting because the world has fallen apart and no one bothered to ask you what you think about any of it, they just dragged you along ’cause they’re bigger than you.”

At that, Tru looked up at me an nodded knowingly, “But Tru, even though it’ll never be ‘okay’ you will be okay. You’ll get through this. It feels like the end of the world and it’s probably the worst thing you will ever go through for a long, long time, but it will get better. It’ll never make sense until you are too old for it to matter anymore. In fact, it’ll probably NEVER make sense, but IT WILL GET EASIER. Just hang on. Love your mommy and keep loving your daddy. It’ll be okay.”

By that time, the game was over and everyone was shaking hands and giving out “effort stars” so I didn’t get to say much more to the little fellow and to be honest, I’m not sure he’ll come back to soccer anymore — he hates it that badly. Still, for those ten minutes, for the first time and the only time in the last 36 years, all the agony, all the anger, and all the pent-up angst FINALLY seemed to have a purpose. I have no idea why I would have to endure all I’ve endured since Mama and Daddy divorced so long ago. It seems as though any chance at being happy drove away in that sky blue truck.

Hang tough, little bro, hang tough.

BUT, for ten minutes, all that misery allowed me to DIRECTLY connect with a little boy who is just setting out on the path I’ve walked for as long as I have clear memories. It is a lonely path and a dark path and when I started my journey, I didn’t know of anyone walking ahead or behind. Maybe THIS little act; this ten minutes of absolute understanding of another human being. Maybe I went through it all for just such a time. I didn’t have a guide, but at least for Tru I could call back across the years to say, “It’s hard, but you can make it. It’s a sad time, but it’ll get better, kid, you just have to keep walking. Keep on walking.”

For such a time as this.

Sorry for such a long piece. I try to keep them under 1000 words, but I got carried away on this one. Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

2 responses »

  1. You know, Shannon, you were prepared to be in this little guy’s life today – God put that seed for you -of all people ( you’d agree) to be asked to coach a soccer team. If you do nothing more this season, you have scored BIG time. Nothing could have been more important for Tru than to have the opportunity to tell someone how he felt. Could it be that God also put Tru there today, just for you? To everything there is a season. My feet are clean and my heart is happy. I hope yours are too.

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