Last night my family and I braved the elements in order to observe our local high school wage gridiron battle with that of another rural East Texas community. It was the first time I had been back in my hometown for a Homecoming game in many years, and it was a surreal experience.
To begin with, the difference in context is vast. If memory is to be trusted, the last homecoming game I attended was within a couple years of my graduation, more than a decade ago. I remember how I inwardly scoffed at this provincial fête with all of its earnest self-importance and small-town pageantry.
A hard-line atheist with the clichéd anarchistic leanings of post-adolescence, I rolled my eyes at the invocation and even yawned during the national anthem. Such is the distinct privilege of being an ungrateful youth.
During the game, I’m sure I was standing along the gates with every other “has-been” and “never-was” complaining about everything that was occurring on the field, thumping our chests about how hard we had it or how great we were “in our day” and how our deeds will always overshadow those who dare to come after.
We say that time changes people but we don’t really mean that. For it is not merely the passing of days that changes people but what occurs during that duration.
I think that I could not understand the solemnity of the invocation until I encountered the LORD as a young man, and later came to serve Him as a minister to others.
I think that I could not appreciate the significance of the Star Spangled Banner until I saw one draped over the coffin of a classmate who lost his life in combat.
We also say that you can never go home again but we don’t really mean that either, at least not explicitly. As Heraclitus of Ephesus is reported to have said: “No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”
I have returned to my hometown, presumably to stay, and I am stepping in waters that I knew as a wastrel youth.
While I have renewed friendships and reestablished contact with some that I have not seen for many years, there has been plenty of water that has passed under those bridges. Are we not very different people now then we were back then? Whether we are different for the better or for the worse, who can say, but we are different nevertheless. In a way, I almost have to get to know them all over again, as they must come to be reacquainted with me.
Last night, I was the one leading the invocation, praying to the same GOD I had denied for most of my young life. I hope that my words were spoken well and edifying to those that listened.
Last night, my heart tightened at the closing strains of the anthem, as my mind was a torrent of thoughts for those loved ones of mine who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Last night, instead of scorn, my emotions rose and fell with the fortunes of my hometown football team in an epic battle that was not decided until the very last play.
It was just another Homecoming football game, in some obscure small town in East Texas, but for me it felt like much more than that.
It felt like coming home.