I will never forget this day. It didn't matter how much I tried to prepare for the moment, there was no way I could bring myself to face the reality. Today was Steel's last high school football game. It is quite possible that he will never again put on pads and take the field for a game. I knew this day would come... and I've dreaded it for a long time, but remembering the moment, even now as I write this still makes my heart ache. With such disappointment, how could I possibly find a blessing? It was a great game up until the 3rd quarter. At one point, we even came from behind to take the lead by 1 point, but it didn't last long. With one of our best players out with an ankle injury we were at a disadvantage against a very talented team with an exceptional athlete as their quarterback. I was so nervous that I shot more that 1000 pictures and my batteries (both) went dead in the 4th quarter... but by that time it was evident that we were going to lose and my heart wasn't in it anymore anyway. It has been 18 years since the opposing high school had won again against our school
After the game the coach called the team into a huddle as the parents and fans surrounded our team with love and support. There wasn't a dry eye in the group. Even if you're not a football fan, you had to feel for the seniors on the team. We all cringed as we could hear the cheers and shouts from the winning team as they celebrated their victory just a few yards away. As the team started to disperse, I immediately went to Steel. I'd like to say that I went to comfort him, but the truth is that I need his reassurance. I needed to share the pain and there was no one else who could make me feel better. I grabbed my son in that moment and held on for as long as I could. Here was this young man who bore the evidence of a hard fought battle. He was wet with sweat and tears, his uniform was soiled from the field and his pads were hard and protective. But I still felt his strong arms around me and his body heave with grief as we stood there and cried... together. There were not many words... just grief. I don't know how long were stood there but I didn't want it to end. I was afraid to let go.
We eventually took a deep breath, and like the young man of character I know him to be, he wiped his tears, and faced his fans with integrity and honor. I watched as parents and students alike came over to congratulate him on the game, on the season and on his 10 year career. Our family who had braved the elements and the crowd to watch the game each took a turn offering their love, support and condolences and Steel welcomed them all.
Eventually, the field began to empty as the players headed back to the locker room. But I watched my son as he looked around the stadium, paused and paced. He didn't want to leave. He turned several times to walk in but always stopped in his tracks as though his feet would follow. He couldn't leave. He wasn't done. He stopped and took a knee in front of the bench, placed his helmet on the ground, bowed his head and cried. At that moment... I realized that the purpose of my presence was to console my son. And through this shared grief, we would forge a bond that would be an unforgettable part of our relationship for the rest of our lives. I am so blessed in the fact that Steel shared this moment with me. Not that he really had a choice. When I saw him, I immediately went to him if only to make myself feel better, but he let me in. We mourned together. Our grief was different, as we've each held different roles in this experience, but we mourned together.
Football has been such a blessing in my life, it's hard to imagine what it will be like now that Steel's time on the field is over. I'm hoping that my involvement is not over, just different. Change and transformation seems to be the theme for the Rocha Family for 2009 and this experience is no different. The good has always outweighed the pain by the grace of God.