My brother had already left home by the time I was in the fifth grade, but there was a part of me still trying to get his attention.
They passed out the forms at Washington Elementary to sign up for the Punt, Pass and Kick competition. I can’t say that I was a football fan, but I folded up the paper and put it in the pocket of my no-brand jeans. I had no real intention of asking my mother to sign it. That would be admitting something to her that I wasn’t ready to admit to myself.
I found his old football in the garage. What it had gathered in dust, it had lost in air. I licked the needle of the pump for my bicycle tires (I don’t know why, but I had seen him do that) and tried to squeeze it into the ball. I placed the small kickstand under my feet and I pumped and pumped and pumped some more! The needle popped out. The ball was still deflated. And I was on my way to be.
Ever hopeful, I decided to still give it a try. I couldn’t quite reach the regulation laces with my fingers. I cocked back my elbow and gave more of a push than a throw. It didn’t spiral. It tumbled. I had no tee to attempt an actual kick of the ball, so I decided to punt (no pun intended). I tossed the ball slightly in the air and swung desperately with my right foot. It felt like a brick as I hit my shin against the flattened leather. I tore the sign-up sheet into tiny bits and through them in the burning barrel by the driveway.
It’s a difficult lesson, one that I’m still learning. People can only love you for who you are. You can’t force it. Or even win it. You just have to be yourself. And that’s still no guarantee that they will love you. But if they do, love you for who you are, how glorious! How beyond punt, pass and kick fantastic!
And never is it more true, than with yourself. The thing is, there’s no permission slip for that. You have to find your own way to selfcare, to self love.
A few summers ago, here in France, my brother-in-law found an old American football. With his son, he was playing catch in our backyard. He threw it to me. Without thinking, I placed my long fingers on the laces, and threw a perfect spiral back to him. “Where did you learn to do that?” he asked in surprise. I smiled and said, “I guess I just found a way.”
I am loved.