Coming home for Homecoming.
Straight off, it has been a rollercoaster week for me. Things have happened that have led to some very deep emotional lows. This has been contrasted with the high of watching the Fairfield Yankees continue their unbeaten run with a win over Danbury, and then the euphoria of finding out that the Australians had humiliated England in the World Cup.
Everything is a bit chaotic and overwhelming, and there’s a lot on my mind that I am still trying to piece together into a coherent whole.
However, prior to the chaos of this week I returned to Dallas for the first time since graduating. It was the 100th Homecoming weekend for Southern Methodist University, and I wanted to make sure that I got to it.
As well as the homecoming football game, the two rugby clubs at SMU had gotten together to start what will hopefully be a traditional homecoming game, pitting the undergraduate side against the team of graduate students and alumni of the Cox School of Business. There was no way that I was going to miss out on this chance to take the field with the Cox boys.
So I took Friday off, packed my gear into the olive drab rucksack that I’ve toted on many an adventure, fuelled up on espresso, and headed to the train station. To find the train was cancelled. An extended and nervous wait followed, but the next train was on time, and we all packed in. From Black Rock, it’s an 80 minute journey down the coast and into the outer boroughs of New York City. The high rises of Manhattan stay hidden from view most of the way, only revealing themselves precisely as the train climbs out of its trench and crosses onto the island.
There was little chance to admire the view as I hustled out of Harlem station and into the crowded streets, to join a packed bus ride that rode along the high freeways over Randall’s Island, across Queens, and finally looping around the terminals of LaGuardia Airport.
The cancelled train was a blessing in disguise, as it meant spending less time in the terminal, a dilapidated, miserable place which does New York a disservice. I was barely through security before we were called to board. A three hour flight later and I was landing in Texas.
Even though it was nearly October, the first thing you noticed on leaving the airport was the heat. The cool breezes of Connecticut had turned me soft. It was well over 30 degrees Celsius out, and it hit you like a slap to the face.
I headed back over to campus through the Friday traffic. Even though I had only been away a couple of months, the campus was already changing, with new construction sites going up where not a few months ago there were parking lots or open greens where I walked between classes.
The campus was quiet, with students already gone home for the day, but I wandered through the halls, stopping in and catching up with the staff who had helped me throughout the program. For old time’s sake I grabbed some candy from the blue bowl at the MBA office, whose bounty of chocolates and snacks had sustained me through many a lecture and study session.
From there it was off to dinner with the teams, and then some rest at the home of some new recruits to the team. They were yet to play a game for us, but they already possessed the generosity of spirit that is a hallmark of the game. In the morning, we breakfasted on Tex-Mex at the taco joint downstairs, before walking across to the field to warm up.
The game itself was a challenge. Apart from trainings and a brief run in a B-side game some weeks ago, this was the first time I had taken the field since breaking my collarbone in April. There was still a lot of fear to overcome, building the courage to run into the fray and to take the tackles. Initially it was scary, but as the game went on the confidence grew. When the whistle blew at the end it was disappointing, as I wanted to play on, to get better.
We didn’t win in the end, but we made an admirable showing. It wasn’t my best game, missing two conversion kicks and then fumbling a pass, but that’s okay.
You see, I like rugby because it’s something I fail at.
Failure hurts. But in the rapid pace of the game, I am forced to own my mistakes and overcome them for the sake of my teammates. It’s a mental challenge that verges on the quixotic. Fail, overcome, fail again, overcome again. It’s something that injects a sense of humility into my life, and challenges me to achieve more in everything I do.
And what’s more, the teams I play with are like-minded souls, who work hard to support each other on and off the field.
After the game, both sides headed over to a local tavern for a well-earned feed and a few drinks. But we couldn’t stay too long, as there was still the main event to come. Not the homecoming game itself, but the homecoming party on the boulevard at SMU. It wasn’t just a chance to get some more free food and drink, but to catch up with some of my MBA classmates who had also returned for the weekend.
It felt at times during the conversation like we hadn’t graduated, that come Monday, we would see each other in the classroom or studying in the atrium of the Collins center (and definitely not pilfering coffee from the Executive MBA breakroom). But it wouldn’t be the case this time. We would be going back to our new jobs and careers, continuing the process of adjustment back into a “real” world that was still unreal to us.
It sounds odd, especially since I am old enough to remember such a time, but it’s hard to understand how people stayed connected as a group before the advent of social media. The mailed newsletter and the organization of reunions involved a level of commitment and effort that seems admirable and unsustainable in the present day. I hope we have the commitment and effort to stay connected.
The boulevard party started to wind down and the actual homecoming game (the one with American Football) commenced. In the grand tradition of SMU games, I hadn’t got a ticket and didn’t attend, instead choosing a quiet evening of recovery from the game. In the end it was a good choice, as SMU continued their tradition of losing games they should have easily won.
The next morning, we had one more Tex-Mex breakfast (so good that I am still having withdrawal symptoms and cravings), before I headed back to the airport. The art gallery in the terminal had an exhibition of photography of the Dallas area, which made me begin to miss the place before even leaving it again.
Then it was another quiet flight, crowded bus ride, and slow train ride back to Connecticut. No sooner had I returned to my apartment before I got in the car and headed to a friend’s place for a rugby BBQ, because apparently I hadn’t had enough rugby activity that weekend. Later, with the blood moon rising over Long Island Sound, I finally got to reflect on the experience and get some sleep.
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