Purdue Football Senior Day: an ode to David Blough and Kirk Barron

Barron and Blough 2
The coin toss, Purdue v. THE Ohio State University – that was a Very Good Day.

[Nov 17, 2018: Purdue Football Senior Day, the final home game at Ross-Ade Stadium for all those players who graduate this December or next May. Also Day 3 of National Youth Worker’s Convention, St. Louis. In other words, my heart is divided across state lines.]

Graduation is a big deal. No more classes. No more quizzes. No more exams. No more grades. No more oral presentations. No. More. Group. Projects.

But also: no more college football. And for college football players, the final whistle of that final home game will carry a deep well of memories and experiences that can’t be weighed.

For college football fans, the final whistle of that final home game will carry its own deep well of memories and meaning, shaped by circumstances and context.

In the fall of 2017, my “ENGL 264 – Bible as Literature” roster at Purdue University included 25 amazing college students, aspiring to be nurses, engineers, teachers, managers, artists, agricultural specialists, social workers, pilots, and physical therapists.

They were, each and every one of them, wonders to behold (which is exactly how I feel about middle school students as well, an unexpected miracle of my inner-wiring bestowed upon me by my Creator).

Among those 25 wonders were two young men on the Purdue football team – a system and community that had for several years weathered what we might call turbulent times.

David Blough (#11, QB) and Kirk Barron (#53, Center) sat side by side in the far corner of my classroom on day one (far corners being prime real estate on the first day of class: from first-hand observation, I tell you that it is possible for 25 college students to all find far-corner seats in a room that has only four corners, which is a testament to their creativity and tenacity).

Having football players in one’s favorite class – when one is a hard-wired football freak and when said football team has just hired a new football coach to (in the words of Israel’s King David) pull the program out from bottomless pits of miry clay – might perhaps result in Boilermaker football reascending the rungs of one’s passion-ladder (not to the very top, obviously, since the very top spots of my personal passion ladder are occupied by Narnia, Middle Earth, and napping, a reality for which I am finally old enough and content enough to offer no apologies or explanations: I read, I nap, I aspire to be Narnian and Elvish, and I love football).

As a general rule, I truly enjoy not just teaching but also knowing my students. It’s the overflow of my Young Life and youthworker self.

So last fall, I enjoyed not just teaching but also knowing 25 wondrous students, including David Blough and Kirk Barron.

After many years of not inhabiting Ross-Ade stadium on autumn Saturdays (which followed many years of faithfully inhabiting Ross-Ade stadium on autumn Saturdays), my husband and I climbed aboard the train (metaphorically) once again, attending home games, cheering on a team that was starting to emerge from the fog and find its collective feet. We did this because we knew certain players, and knowing people changes everything.

We cheered when they won, and when they lost – because there is always something to cheer (even when some refs botch calls and certain opponents are dirty rotten stinkers).

We roared with delight when face-painted fierce Barron stalked the sideline rousing his teammates and when fleet-footed fierce Blough launched breathtaking passes that connected with receivers.

We moaned with despair when Barron’s rousing roars came up short and when Blough was loaded into an ambulance with a thoroughly destroyed ankle.

We watched with joy when, after a stunning recovery and rehab by Blough, they once again both walked out to the coin toss, flanking pint-sized football fans who were special guests of honor.

We wept along with the world as they befriended, encouraged, and prayed with Tyler Trent, a young man who defies all worldly explanations of life and love and hope.

And today, we will proudly watch Barron and Blough run onto that field one last time [really truly the last time], walk to center-field for the pregame coin toss one last time, give and take the opening snap one last time, play as a team-within-a-team one last time, and (we all hope) put up a “W” at Ross-Ade Stadium [or Nissan Stadium, as the case may be] one last time.

Football is a funny thing. Some people hate it. Some people ignore it. Some people worship it. Some people bleed it. And some people simply and inexplicably love it.

I am of the latter ilk. I simply and inexplicably love football, which, being a bookish, academic, PhD-ish, theological, ministerial, Middle-Earthian, Narnian kind of person, is rather odd and unexpected.

But much of life is odd and unexpected. We can be confounded by it, or we can joyfully take it and run with it (metaphorically, that is – as a general rule and daily practice, I vehemently oppose and doggedly avoid running).

Today is a celebration for and about many people.

But these words right here are a celebration of two particular young men who in some odd and unexpected way have become “my” players for these past two years – the two players I watch most carefully on the field and on the sideline, the two I cheer for most enthusiastically, and the two I know most personally. And that last one, I would argue, is the most significant thing.

When you know people, things matter in different ways and to different degrees.

Knowing is the secret sauce of almost everything. Not knowing about, but knowing. 

know, in small ways and in small degrees, David Blough and Kirk Barron. They make me proud. They make me laugh. They are men worth knowing.

Today, I celebrate them. I hope the final whistle of this final home game brings them not just a victory but also joy, energy, excitement, anticipation, and wild hope for all that lies ahead.

The truth about Purdue’s shooting tragedy [one year later]

Exactly one year ago, things changed at Purdue University. Today, I wonder just how lasting that change really was. Do people still remember? Do they still mourn? Does the shocking reality of what happened on January 21, 2014 still run as high, long, wide, and deep as it did in those first days? For a few, no doubt yes. For most, assuredly no. The daily realities of life have settled into the space where the shock once was. That’s to be expected. Else how would life carry on?

But there is one reality that must not be forgotten – one reality that can begin to make sense of last year’s pain – one reality running so much higher and longer and wider and deeper than any other that we dare not forget it. (The following post was first published January 21, 2014.)

Purdue Memorial Mall, 1-21-2014 (Photo: CKirgiss)

It was sunny today at Purdue. Sunny and snowy. Sunny and snowy and freezing. Sunny and snowy and freezing and beautiful. Which is to say, it was a day pretty much like every other wintry day on campus the past two weeks.

Except that it wasn’t.

At 11:00 a.m. when I walked across Memorial Mall, I was struck by the peaceful stillness. By some footprints in the snow. By a brilliant sky. By the hushed atmosphere. Even on this typically busy, bustling day at a Big 10 campus, there was a measurable sense of calm and comfort. Things were much as they should be.

Except that they weren’t.

At noon when I walked back across Memorial Mall, nothing had changed. Not visibly, anyway. There were the footprints. There was the brilliant sky. There was the hushed atmosphere. There was the sense of peaceful stillness amidst the busy, bustling crowd.

And then, ripping through the stillness, slashing through the peace, there was an emergency siren. Screeching. Wailing. Shrieking. On and on and on and on. And the unexpected text message: “Shooting reported on campus. Bldg Electrical Engineering; Avoid area; Shelter in place.”

What place is this? Where am I? Have I stepped into another time and place? Because, you see, these things do not happen here. In other places, perhaps. But not here.

Except when they do.

It has been a devastating day. Someone’s son has died. Someone else’s son has killed. Both families are forever changed. It is one more bitter reminder that we live in a very broken world (all of it), among very broken people (all of us).

That’s right – all of us. We are all broken. Entirely, very, thoroughly, quite broken. That truth manifests itself in different ways, to different degrees, and not just in the midst of tragedy. It is a truth easier to ignore than acknowledge, easier to deny than accept, easier to protest than admit. Nonetheless, we are all – each and every one of us – in need of a Savior who loves, forgives, and transforms broken people.

Which he does.

The sun shone brightly today on a very dark and desperate place. Can you see it there, powerful and radiant?

Electrical Engineering Building, Purdue University, 1-21-2014 (Photo: CKirgiss)

And tonight, the light of thousands shone brightly on a very sad and wounded place. Can you see it there, brave and hopeful?

Candlelight Vigil, Purdue University, 2-21-2014 (Photo: Reddit User 8bitremixguy, http://voices.suntimes.com/news/photos-from-purdue-universitys-candlelight-vigil-for-andrew-boldt/)

Both lights – sun by day and candle by night – are glorious, comforting, indescribably beautiful.

But they are nothing – absolutely nothing – when compared to the one light that really matters, the one light that is truth, the one light that is life, the one light that is love, the one light that is hope, the one light that saves.

“I am the light of the world.” The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not – and will not ever – overcome it.

Oh, sweet Jesus – we need your love, your compassion, your grace, your humility. Mostly, we need You. Each and every day. Today (and every other day, in truth) is a fresh reminder of this.

[My continued thoughts, written on the third day – January 23, 2014 – are here.]

Purdue, Day Three: the hard realities of death and life

Purdue Memorial Mall, Day Three (Photo: CKirgiss)
Purdue Memorial Mall, Day Three 1-23-2014 (Photo: CKirgiss)

It was sunny today at Purdue. Sunny and snowy. Sunny and snowy and freezing. Sunny and snowy and freezing and beautiful. Which is to say, it was a day pretty much like every other wintry day on campus the past two weeks.

Except that it wasn’t,

because two days ago, Tuesday, January 21, 2014, someone was killed here. Most people know this already. The world is like that these days – something happens one minute and the world knows the next. And the world graciously and kindly and sincerely mourns and aches and supports from both near and far, until another tragedy strikes, which it will, because that is the kind of world we live in.

Things are quite back to normal here today for many people. On the surface, at least. It’s not always easy to know what’s going on underneath the surface, in the private corners of peoples’ minds, in the silent spaces of peoples’ souls. Sometimes we are not aware of those things even in our own selves because those private corners and silent spaces can be daunting, overwhelming, and (we might think) better left alone. Who has time to ask those questions? To face those fears? To navigate those emotions? Worse yet, what if there are no questions to ask, no fears to face, and no emotions to navigate?

I fear that on this Day Three of what has been called The Purdue University Shooting Tragedy – because we must have a way to refer to it – too many private corners of peoples’ minds and silent spaces of peoples’ souls will be left undisturbed, pushed aside because of busyness, or fear, or nonchalance, or something else entirely.

And that would make what happened just two short days ago doubly tragic.

It would surely be a mistake to contrive meaningless questions, conjure false fears, and navigate non-existent emotions just for the sake of being able to discuss one’s “personal grief process” or one’s “difficult emotional journey.” After all, not everyone has questions or fears or tangled emotions surrounding what happened here two days ago.

And that is absolutely fine. It really is. It is not a direct measure of one’s compassion or empathy or humanity.

But everyone, absolutely everyone, should know without a shadow of a doubt that what happened here on Tuesday was indeed a tragedy. Not because it happened at Purdue. Not because some of us were in the vicinity. Not because some of us were directly affected. Not even because some of us knew the people involved.

What happened here on Tuesday was a tragedy simply because it happened at all. Every single time a life is taken, regardless or where or when or why, it is a tragedy of unspeakable magnitude.

Every single time –

because life is inherently miraculous. Mysterious. Amazing. Wondrous. Breathtaking. Sacred.

If it were not, there would be no reason to mourn what happened here just two days ago.

If life matters, then certainly we must mourn its loss. (And oh my gracious, I cannot begin to imagine what that mourning and loss looks like for families, those who love longest and deepest.)

But more importantly:

If life matters, we must live out that reality each and every moment of each and every day with each and every person. Period.

If we do not, then how dare we presume to mourn a lost life? How dare we presume to struggle with death’s sorrow? How dare we band together in a show of support and solidarity for a life cut short?

Someone I greatly admire said today, through heartbreakingly wrenching tears, “I feel as though I have lost a child.” We should all feel that way — not because this is about us or how we feel, not because our sadness is what really matters, and certainly not because we are in a position to understand the pain of those who in reality did lose a child — but rather because a life was taken. And when a life is taken, we all lose something.

Please: in the normalcy that defines so many Third Days such as these, do not fail to stop, to think, to contemplate, to listen, to reflect, to consider the reality of what has happened. Do not make this tragedy worse than it already is by missing the indescribable magnitude and significance of a single lost life. And do not make this tragedy worse than it already is by failing to pay close attention and learning something.

For we all have much to learn. Not just about death, but also about life.

Why my little corner of the earth is awesome

The little corner of the earth where I live isn’t generally known as being One of the Most Beautiful and Interesting Places in the world.

In fact, my proverbial neck of the woods doesn’t actually have any woods. Or mountains. Or hills. Or oceans. Or lakes – at least not when compared to my former little corner of the earth that was home to, oh, about 10,000 lakes.

(Aside from the lacking topography, this Big Ten Land Grant University town also lacks a Trader Joe’s and an Apple Store, which is just so sad and beyond all comprehension.)

Just an hour or so from my little corner of the earth there are some pretty famous places, both topographically and commercially. A Great Lake and its beaches and dunes. A renowned raceway. A Super-Bowl-famous stadium. That kind of thing.

But here, in my little corner, there are none of those things. Just a great big university. And this:

Indiana bale (Photo: CKirgiss)
Indiana bale (Photo: CKirgiss)
Indiana corn (Photo: CKirgiss)
Indiana corn (Photo: CKirgiss)
Indiana corn (Photo: CKirgiss)
Indiana corn (Photo: CKirgiss)

The round bales and the corn fields in and around my little corner of the earth will never make it into a Traveler’s Guidebook or a Sights-You-Musn’t-Miss-In-Indiana ad.

But truly, they are breathtakingly beautiful in a way that’s difficult to describe. They delight my Nebraska-prairie heritage. They make me proud, even though I had absolutely nothing to do with planting, watering, harvesting, or baling.

Whatever else may be missing, in the little corner of the earth where I live, they grow things. Beautiful and important things.

And I love that.