My radio, tuned to an all-sports station, blared highlights of some football game. There are so many games every fall — high school, college, NFL — and frankly scant few of them stand out. But this announcer must have thought he was calling the greatest game ever, such was his enthusiasm.
It was third down, and the offense needed less than a yard to pick up an apparently vital first down. The quarterback handed the ball to the fullback, who slammed into the massive pileup of blockers in front of him. He churned the muscles of his legs, forced ahead with his shoulder and head down … and he picked up the first down.
“What amazing heart!” the announcer shouted. “What amazing courage!”
Heart and courage. From a football player gaining one yard in a game that in the big picture of the history of the universe holds relatively miniscule significance.
I don’t want to minimize that moment entirely. I frequently used similar hyperbole to describe achievement when I worked as a sportswriter. Usually, there was much more to the story than an isolated moment.
There was the girl running a relay race in track despite having an artificial leg. There was the boy playing high school basketball despite having virtually no arms. There were college and pro athletes returning to competition after suffering horrible injuries and enduring months of painful rehab.
But we all know the world is filled with examples of heart and courage that happen far away from crowds, the sights that resonate with all of us when we comprehend the full background.
We try to stay aware of everyday heroes, first-responders and soldiers of every branch of the military who wake up every day knowing they might not live to see nightfall. There are countless other people who toil daily with heart and courage in complete obscurity — parents working overtime or taking night classes to improve life for their families, people with serious physical or mental illnesses daily holding onto their dignity, addicts working hard one day at a time to overcome their dependency.
Courage displayed, hearts emptied, with little or no notice.
I sat at my table in a fast-food restaurant last week and witnessed a holy display. An elderly couple had walked in carrying a jug full of change. They poured the coins onto a table, separated it into quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies, then began to count out enough to pay for their meal. Just as they were making some progress, their daughter approached them and started putting the coins back into the container.
“We don’t need any of this,” she told her parents. “Those two young people paid for our dinner.”
The man looked at his daughter. He sounded emotionally overwhelmed but uncertain how to react. “I don’t want them to know we’re poor,” he said. “Well,” the daughter responded, “we might be poor, but it’s OK. They just wanted to help.”
The modest young couple — they looked to be no more than 25 — had seen the couple’s jug. They could have simply ordered their own food and moved on with their night. But they noticed. The scene so moved their hearts that they felt a connection, a force they couldn’t resist. And they found the motivation to leave the comfort of doing nothing.
They found the courage to act, the heart to do something in a small way that changed someone’s world in a great way.
For those of us who have lived through many Christmas seasons, we sometimes navigate this time of year without a any sense of wonder. We see the sappy Hallmark movies, hear songs about jingling bells and ho-ho-hos, spend hours online trying to find all the gifts to satisfy all the wishes of those we love.
One night in a tiny Middle Eastern town, in a nondescript stable, in a meaningless manger far away from an audience other than a few assorted animals and shepherds, the great Son of God stepped out of His comfort zone. We were mired in sin; He noticed and saved us. We were poor; He noticed and became poor. We were engulfed in darkness; He noticed and became the light of the world.
What amazing heart. What amazing courage. What an amazing God.
Eisenbath is a parishioner at St. Cletus Parish in St. Charles.