Shiny, Happy People

I was at a cricket match today. I missed most of the game, our view was blocked, but I caught some of the best cheerleading I have seen in a long time.

My brother and I walked in half an hour before the game started, determined to grab the best seats. And we did, third row, right in front of the stage. I think our fist bumping eventually pissed off the Universe, because just before the show was about to start, the empty seats in front of us were taken by an incredibly tall man, and his incredibly small daughter. She barely came up to his knee, and obviously had him wrapped around her little finger. For the next three hours, I was blissfully unaware of the game as I watched her perched on his knee, playing her own little games. She waved her yellow handkerchief in his face, and he butted at it like a matador. She tried to take off his tie and turn in into her hairband, and he tried to help her, his prowess with hair accessories even more limited than hers. She looked in his pockets for a mirror, and he told her, shamefacedly, that he had forgotten the special mirror for her hair. As she punched him repeatedly, he smiled and apologized, taking her little blows on his hands. I doubt he saw much more of the game than I did, but we all had a fantastic time. As we were filing out of the stadium, I could not help telling him that he had a beautiful child. He looked terribly proud, and then told me, in the most serious and grown up of voices, ‘She does all her make up herself. She dresses herself too.’ I think the only one in the stadium who looked more gratified than him, was her. She grinned up at me and skipped away, knowing her father would follow. Of course he did. He was her personal cheerleader.

There is a time and place to debate five year old girls wearing makeup. This is not that place. This is, however, the place to talk about cheerleaders. Life is often akin to a cricket game, where you are under tremendous pressure and scrutiny. You train and sweat for years to get a place in the lineup, a chance to prove your worth. Then you’re called out onto the crease, and no matter how hard you worked, you’re never truly ready for the test. You take your place, angling your bat, looking over at the bowler. In most cases, the bowler is not a friend, nor a charitable stranger, who will toss you an easy ball and set you up for victory. More often than not, you are being dealt a unknown hand, and there are people circling you, trying to catch you out even on your best efforts. No one can play your shot for you, or predict the outcome. The only thing someone can do for you is cheer you on.

Even though I do not believe in physical exercise, and have studiously avoided sports of every kind, I have had quite a few cheerleaders in my time. My mother’s the head cheerleader, though an involuntary shudder passes through me as an equally involuntary image of her in a short red skirt flits across my mind. She is the quintessential mom, who knows without a shadow of a doubt that I am the best. At everything. My haphazard kindergarten art was better than DaVinci, my misspelled essays second only to Dickens, my disastrous attempts at baking could put Martha Stewart to shame. She needed no proof of my accomplishments, she just decided that I could do no wrong. She also decided that her duty, as my mother and general observer of my brilliance, was to broadcast my talents to everyone she knew/met/passed on the street. Although we have managed to rationalize her behavior a little bit in the last 20 years, there is one aspect of her personality that remains the same. She always takes me seriously. I’m not a five year old girl trying to make a hairband, what I aim for now tends to be far more impossible, and failure entails a lot worse than a ruined tie, but she still listens to me. She lets me finish. And then she reminds me that I am capable of anything, and not trying is infinitely worse than failing. As her last resort, if I am dangerously close to giving up or giving in, she quotes Tennessee Williams. Those things on their own, the listening, the pep talk, the Tennessee Williams, they can never pass an examination for me, or win a debating competition, or make me look great at prom. But I know, with the same absolute certainty that my mother has in my talents, that they helped.

My mother had plenty problems of her own to talk about; I should know, I was one of them. There were four others, three of whom she gave birth to and one she married. But those problems never kept her from being in my corner, with her speeches and her metaphorical pompoms. She was batting on the crease in so many matches of her own life, yet she always managed to come cheer for mine. Like the father who sat in front of me tonight, she knows what a transformative effect undivided attention can have on a child. And though I am not five anymore, I am all of twenty one, I honestly can’t imagine what I would do if my mother did not play along with my fantasies.We all need someone who listens, who deems our problems important, our dreams significant, our talents impressive. In our increasingly self-sufficient lives, we have no room for others to take our decisions or fight our battles. The only meaningful contribution we can make to each others life is to make time, show up for the matches, stand on the sidelines, and, despite our personal problems, cheer them on.

Be someone’s ray of sunshine today.

The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks ~ Tennessee Williams

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