Frightened Little Children

We human creatures are deeply frail and fragile beings, and behind every tough exterior lives a frightened little child.

It doesn’t matter whether we are “battle hardened soldiers,” or “bleeding heart artists.”

It doesn’t matter if we are “brawny men,” “sensitive women,” or non-binary persons….or all the lovely configurations of all those descriptors with all of those beautiful genders and orientations.

My point is: That first sentence is true for all of us, no matter what exterior we have been given or have cultivated for ourselves.

And, if I may, one of the deep sicknesses in our society is that we’re tragically losing the ability to see this truth. Instead, we judge each other by the exteriors, not seeing the deep, common interior.

Inside every exterior, there lives a frightened little child.

Even inside the bodies of superhuman-looking NFL football players.

I don’t know what you saw the other night on that Cincinnati field —in those moments after “the hit” and before the ambulance drove away— but what I saw was a bunch of 300-pound scared, little children.

They were having exactly the same kind of reactions *any* of us would have, if we credibly believe we were watching someone die in front of our eyes.

The Buffalo Bills gather as an ambulance parks on the field while CPR is administered to Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin (3) after a play in the first quarter of the NFL Week 17 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills at Paycor Stadium in Downtown Cincinnati on Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. The game was suspended with suspended in the first quarter after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin (3) was taken away in an ambulance following a play. Buffalo Bills At Cincinnati Bengals Week 17

Their reaction was, if I may, exactly what happened to *me* last summer, along Interstate 20 in Far West Texas. There, while traveling 80 mph (the legal limit), I saw the horrific sight of a body, tumbling over and over….a body that had fallen off its motorcycle, and was spinning like a boulder rolling down a mountain.

Except, there was no mountain. There was just the horrible fact of gravity and the truth that a body is going to spin a certain number of times before finally stopping, mere feet in front of my car.

I *still* don’t know if that man is alive today, and his bloodied frame and labored breathing haunts me.

As I slammed the brakes, gripped the steering wheel, all I could say, over and over, was “Oh my God…Oh my God…Oh my God…”

I said it…I screamed it…over and over…maybe as much as once for every tumble.

Because it was horrific.

I credibly thought I was watching somebody die.

When you hear the sports commentators, the professional pundits, talking about those football players and their reaction…

about how they were weeping…

about how they all knelt (because, what the hell else is there to do?)…

what you are seeing was their own “Oh my God…Oh my God…Oh my God…” moment.

These physical demigods —in pads and helmets that make them look for all the world like “Iron Man”— they wept.

They knelt.

They showed you, perhaps for the only time they ever will, their inner, scared, little child.

And whatever else you saw that night —whatever morality lessons you take from what happened on that Cincinnati field— I hope we all take the lesson that life is fragile.

For all of us. And, sooner or later, we all come face to face with seeing this truth with our own eyes.

Sure, if we play pro football, ride a motorcycle without a helmet, or refuse a COVID vaccine out of medical denial, we are statistically more likely to die than other humans.

But that moment of “Oh my God…Oh my God…Oh my God…” is coming for all of us.

I see that moment most often among family members of my church, as they summon me to be with them when their loved ones die.

In a little over a month, the Church will engage in one of its more healthy rituals. We’ll celebrate Ash Wednesday.

None of us like to talk about death, or to think too long about it. But once a year, many churches do a bold and ridiculous thing. We gather for worship and intentionally look each other squarely in the eye and say “you are going to die.”

Technically, we say “ Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Most of the time, we humans are not that honest with one another.

Most of the time, we have those walls up. We all do. We have the cultivated facades we all live behind

We keep up our guards, we don’t let our emotions show. And we like to pretend that we’ll live forever.

Football players are walking embodiments of this last truth.

They are young. (Young people believe they will live forever…)

They hit each other hard. (So, we create new technology for their pads and helmets, which paradoxically exacerbates their belief that they can hit even *harder,* and still live forever…)

You can criticize football as a sport all you want. And I will not speak pro/con in its defense.

What I will say is this: I saw something very tender, and very profound on that field. I saw that moment when people let their guards down, and for just a moment the scared, small child inside becomes visible.

Professionally, I’m blessed to to be invited into these kinds of tender moments with family members.

Monday night, millions of us got to see that moment, unbidden. For most of us, when that moment comes, it’s usually in the safety of a small group of family. (Or, in my case, a car on the highway…)

It’s pretty rare for millions of onlookers to be leering as your scared, inner child is suddenly revealed on national television.

Let me suggest… this is why some of you still don’t quite know how to feel about what you have seen. You don’t know what to feel, not just because it feels voyeuristic (of course it does…) but *also* because *you* are a scared, small child too.

So, I’ll do for you, what I hope you’ll continue to do for those players…I’ll hold space for the vulnerability of an “Oh my God…Oh my God…Oh my God…” moment.

Because one way or another, that moment will come to us all, whether our life-choices are careful, healthy, and measured; or reckless, thoughtless, and full of denial.

When that “Oh my God…Oh my God…Oh my God…” moment comes, however we got there, we all deserve a modicum of human compassion, from all who might be watching, at the sheer tender humanity of it all.

And whatever else you saw Monday night, I hope you saw that.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

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