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The Football Player and the Thespian

November 16, 2010

I remember the day I was cast as the lead role of our high school production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.  I was a sophomore who decided to audition for the play after realizing I wouldn’t survive one more day of volleyball practice.  I never expected to be on the call-back list.  I never expected to be cast as Amanda Wingfield.  I never expected the senior who’s part I apparently stole to “confront” me in the lunchroom behind the soda machines.  Yeah, everything bad happened behind the soda machines.

Despite my unexpected thrust into high school theater glory, I fell in love with this play.  I fell in love with my character.  I spent nights watching Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind, remote in hand so that I could rewind and practice her accent over and over again.  I woke up early on the weekends to go over my entire playbook of lines.  For a few days, I think my vowels inherently had a southern twang.  I honestly couldn’t have been more proud of the part I was playing, and everything I was doing to make the role come to life.

My friends supported my acting, but no matter how you slice it, theater can never quite be “cool” in high school.  In my Honors history class, I sat at a table with two cheerleaders, a basketball player, and the rising star of our football team: Mike.  Not only was Mike a football player in Honors classes, but he had red hair, freckles, and a shy quiet smile that just melted every ounce of good girl choices one would hope to make.  He was the kind of guy who kept to himself, and because he was so impressive on the field, his mystique earned him respect.  And for whatever reason, our table of jocks and the theater girl had developed a friendship as the school year went on.  I begged them all to come to my play, but knew full well that none of these top level athletes would show up.  Who other than true English nerds would show up for a 4-person person production named after a metaphor for a family’s withering existence?

Opening night went off with a bang.  I was glowing all night.  My lines came out of my mouth as if they were my own personal story being told.  Every dim of a light or cue of a musical note heightened all the nerves in my body, and I felt the stage living and breathing around me.  I was floating around in a state of euphoria – I knew I had finally found my place.  I practically raced down the hall after the show to greet my family and feel the encouragement of the crowd.  I couldn’t get enough of their praise for the show; how wonderful it was, how hard we must have worked!  I soaked it all up, until I turned around to see a most unexpected audience member.

Mike came up to me and smiled.  His broad shoulders stuck out from beneath his letterman’s jacket, and he just stood there.  He hadn’t come with anyone, but showed up alone.  For several seconds neither of us said anything.  I was brought back to reality in the most amazing way, and I was utterly speechless.  Mike had showed up.  Mike the football player came to see me, the quirky thespian in his history class.  Mike, who could have shown up with an armful of buddies, decided to come quietly and respectfully to see my show.  I finally uttered a barely audible “thank you,” to which Mike just shrugged his shoulders, held out his hands, and smiled.  It was one of the most tender gestures of friendship I remember to this day.  Football Mike came to see Thespian Me.

I wish I could remember what happened the following Monday at school.  I wish I could recall thanking Mike a thousand times over for coming to the play.  I wish I knew that I told him how much that meant to me, but I don’t know that I did.  I don’t know that I ever communicated how that moment of affirmation and acceptance will forever be framed in my mind.  I wish I could have told him then, that ten years later, I would want to wrap that memory up and carry it around with me to remind myself that there is goodness in people.  There is kindness that can often surprise and shock us.  When we aren’t looking for it, sometimes the Mikes of the world emerge from the locker room shadows and show their support for the underdogs like me.  Sometimes good people show up.

I will choose to look for goodness this week.  I will choose to try and notice and celebrate the Mikes.  Those who reach out to someone.  Those who take a chance on a conversation with the strange guy at work.  Those who decide to show up at the local high school’s play.  Those who have shaped my life with their unassuming presence of joy.

Go out there.  Be a Mike.

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