Yesterday morning, we woke to the news that dozens of concertgoers had been killed by an evil man with hatred in his heart. I went to a concert this past weekend. I went to two in the last week. Plus a comedy show. I left my house with plans for what I’d do after each show, the next day, the next week, the next year. I came home. I went to work. I came home sick. But I got to keep living. 59 people in Las Vegas who went to a concert with plans for after the show didn’t live to see them come to fruition. They never got to pick up secretly pre-planned Taco Bell. They didn’t get to make that career change they’d been considering or learn how to make paella over the weekend. They didn’t get to finish writing their own stories because someone else cut them short.
The death toll in Las Vegas may have already risen by the time this piece publishes. It may be months before we have an accurate accounting of the loss of life in Puerto Rico during and after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. People are still searching for survivors of Mexico’s earthquakes. For all the advancement mass communication has afforded us, it’s still hard to make sense of large-scale tragedy. Some people turn to religion, others to distractions like work or hobbies. Anything to drown out the noise. But even with almost effortless access to more information than any previous generation, I suspect we will always struggle to understand one of the basic tenets of humanity: Why do some people live and some people die?
There are tangible ways to help the victims of tragedies, whether by giving blood, food, money, or your time and labor. People are hurting and need all of the emotional and financial support we can muster. But the truth is, Las Vegas is on the other side of the continent from most of the people who will be reading this post. Puerto Rico is surrounded by water. Mexico lies across a forbidden border. While each story is heartbreaking, tragic and all of the other emotional words that are beginning to lose their meaning, the vast majority of these victims will remain as we first encountered them, words on a screen linked to tweets or facebook posts. However, just because we don’t know them doesn’t mean we shouldn’t honor their memories.
While there will never be a consensus about the best way to honor victims of suffering, mostly because cable news exists, one small, personal way you can honor death is by appreciating life.
One of the shows I saw this past week was St. Paul and the Broken Bones. The band from Birmingham, Alabama, took the stage close to home, in Montgomery. We managed to swipe $20 tickets so I didn’t mind the drive.
If you’ve never heard St. Paul and the Broken Bones, do yourself a favor and open up Spotify. I’ll wait. Paul’s voice fills any room he walks in, and he’ll take you to church without even lifting a finger. As always, Paul and company put on a heck of a show. Truly, he is a gifted performer who deserves every one of his numerous and adoring fans. One fan in particular stood out. We noticed him standing by the auditorium doors before the show started. He wore a blazer covered in black sequins, no doubt hoping to catch Paul’s eye. Paul is known almost as much for his flamboyant style as his audacious voice, and this guy had a plan.
During the course of the show, young and older people alike gradually got up to dance. MPAC is definitely a “seated” show venue, but St. Paul can bring a crowd to its feet. We saw “Jacket” inch closer to the stage and followed his progress closely as security loosened and more people lost themselves to the music. Luckily, the sequins made him easy to spot. Jacket knew every word to every song, and he fist-pumped and power-pointed without reprieve. Finally, during the encore, Jacket made his move. He made it all the way to the front of the stage and piqued the interest of his idol. “I like this guy right here,” Paul said about him. Jacket practically floated in the air.
Life can get beat you down if we let it. The news is filled with sadness. Work is never-ending. Friends come and go. But when we wake up every morning and hit snooze too many times, it’s because we were given another day to see. Not everyone is so lucky. Sometimes, it’s good to put on a ridiculous outfit and dance like Taylor Hicks to your favorite artist (who is also dancing like Taylor Hicks). The Montgomery Performing Arts Center was full of people that night who cared way too much about what other people thought about them and too little about whether they were happy.
Not Jacket. Jacket lived his truth. And so should you. Because you were blessed to see today, and none of us is guaranteed tomorrow.
Our thoughts are with you, Las Vegas.
If you’re heading to the Plains to see our Tigers take on the Ole Miss Landsharks (?), I may see you there! It’s an early kick, so all of our old fears about 11am games are sneaking back into our collective consciousness. I’d love to be able to tell you that after putting together its most complete and dominant performance of the season against Mississippi State, I wasn’t worried about Auburn sleepwalking through the first half against Ole Miss, but you know I can’t do that. Just like Tommy’s Golden Flake commercial, early game hangover fears leftover from the Tuberville years will never leave us.
But if all goes according to plan, Auburn will be 5-1 and staring straight down an SEC proving ground gauntlet. If they come out on the other side unscathed, we’ll talk turkey. If not, we’ll adjust expectations. Until then, it’s one practice at a time. One day at a time. One game at a time.
Enjoy the sights, smells, sounds, friendships, and traditions of football season while we’ve got it, Tiger fans. I feel like we just blinked and it’s nearly halfway over already. Don’t be afraid to celebrate too loudly or hug a stranger. Sing “Sweet Caroline” with the band. Power-point to “All the Above.” Heckle whatever mascot Ole Miss decides to bring with them. Be ridiculous. Be happy. Sports have the power to unite people from all walks of life, and despite forces that try to divide us, as Americans, we are all stronger when we walk together.
We were given today. Use it to live your truth. Use it to wear your jacket.
Until next time—War Eagle.