Perhaps the only thing connecting Rosa Parks with 87,451 Auburn and Texas A & M football fans is that I encountered them both on the same day, an exquisite November day made for SEC football and an early morning run through the dew-damp Montgomery downtown. Somehow, though, at the end of the full day, on a late night drive up Highway 280, getting the preacher home so he could sleep and preach a sermon the next morning, Rosa and the almost 90,000 people at Jordan-Hare stadium seemed linked.
Let me back up a day to Friday. Parents of athletes are used to driving to their children’s far-flung sporting events. Parents of kids at little Christian schools that play 6-man football are used to redefining the word ‘far-flung.’ Three hours is a starting point, so off we went packed for our son’s state championship game, totally being that family we said we never would. Hard-core. Some dear friends had reserved us a hotel room for the night so we could go right over to the Auburn/Texas A & M game the next morning. So here we were, the Littles of Littleville, unloading our coffee-making apparatus, and walking into the soaring atrium, fountains, wait-staff, and amenities of a high-end hostelry. Having declined valet parking and strapped with bag and baggage, I walked through the revolving door and smack into, yes!, one of Texas A & M’s massive linebackers. I called a cheerful hello to him and told him I would see him tomorrow. He smiled, but his Beats I’m sure muted my fan-chatter. Mind you, I’m an Auburn fan, but hey, football mystique is real even though the players are 19 years old and probably from Littlerville than my Littleville.
So there he stood in team sweats, backpack, mellow smile, and 65 more just like him headed into the banquet hall which had been decorated with the Aggie maroon (with a tinge of eggplant) and black and no doubt served these man-children AYCE porterhouses and french fries. The chef in his recognizable kitchen shirt moved through the hall ensuring the players’ dining satisfaction. Men in suits on cell phones directed the players into dinner and maintained this vast machine of human beings called a college football team. Food for thought there. At one giddy point, I was wedged on an elevator with 7 members of the defensive line plus a coach. I couldn’t help myself, but began talking. I told them I would pray for their safety and for their mothers who would be worrying about them. Again, the Beats (intentionally) hindered conversation. Unfortunately, my prayers were answered and they won the nail-biter football game the next day with no injuries. Teach me!
I am going somewhere with all this. Hang with me.
As for my son’s championship game, the opposing team was named Victory. And they made sure we could spell it.
The next morning the breakfast area was 98% maroon and black in every variation of boot, vest, scarf, custom leather coat, ditto shoes, western-yoked shirt, and felt hat. It was like finding myself in a stranger’s living room at their family reunion. Or being at another church during prayer time – none of the names mean anything. But then here came the talent; 65 sweat-suited Aggies, having had blessed, uninterrupted sleep (my son and his best friend decided not to pull the fire alarm after all), a herd of bacon, a generation of eggs, and an orchard of citrus, were now deferentially herded to the 8 luxury buses at the curb for the hour ride to the “Loveliest Village on the Plains.”
But what about Rosa? During all this moonstruckness, we tied on our Nikes and headed out into the 48 degree morning to run to the Capitol. Oh, the urban run! How different from LIttleville. And, oh, the unanticipated treasures! I am a plaque person, to my family’s chagrin. One block in, and a plaque stopped me cold announcing that this was the route that slaves would walk in chains from the river to the auction house. Game changer, that. A block further at a beautiful cobbled square and fountain a plaque informed us that this was the site of several auction houses and slave warehouses. The mind tries to reconcile then and now and can’t. And then, in one shady corner of the square I encountered Rosa’s bus stop. There it was, the very spot she stood, weary from a day’s work and with all her own house work ahead of her. If ever time travel was possible I longed for it then. To watch her. Had she thought a million times, “Tomorrow, I won’t get up. Tomorrow when he tells me to move, I won’t,” and finally tomorrow came? Or was it completely spontaneous, a split-second decision? Is the conversation recorded by any witness? A man said some variation of “Move.” And she said some variation of “No.”
We moved on. I touched the etched marble slab that commemorated the march from Selma to Montgomery that ended right here at the Capitol. We Rocky-Balboaed up the marble steps and jumped the victory jump at the top. The only people who saw us were the hoodied, DOT-vested construction workers. We admired the statue of my husband’s distant relative Jefferson Davis, though later my son would say it looked like Benedict Cumberbatch to him. It was no doubt the caped coat.
But Rosa stayed on my mind. Because if I wished I could time-travel to watch her, what if she time-traveled to see me? I wondered what she would think of my last few hours. I had fan-worshiped 19-year-old college students. I had sat at breakfast among custom-leather-clad men and women who had money to spare and we shared smiles and have-a-good-games. I watched one couple from my hotel window, on the very Via-Dolorosa their ancestors walked in chains, exchange laughs with friends, load up their SUVs and head out to cheer on their sons and their alma mater. Again, the mind tries to reconcile then and now and fails.
And the 87,451? What is their connection to Rosa? The Loveliest Village on the Plains, at least the campus, is indeed lovely. From our perch in section 57, row 10, seats 1 – 4, we had a view of the slanting sun turning the brown rooftops gold all around us. 85,000 wore orange and blue, and made those colors look good. Impressive. To be a part of that many people wearing the same colors and with one goal in mind – protect this house – was thought-provoking. Rosa might find it interesting that the music they used to get 87,451 people on their feet, either in approval or outrage, was rap and hip hop. A low-sounding synthesizer pulled at our blood and obligated us to get to our feet and scream at the intruder in the house. “Turn down for what?” compelled the home team on a third down to maintain its level of ferocious, competitive play. Or so I gathered. And when, on the first completed pass, I opened my mouth to proclaim my approval, a 90,000-strong roar came out of my mouth. It was startling and powerful.
And that’s the connection to Rosa. She opened her mouth and a roar 90,000-strong came out. I don’t trivialize her action at all in comparing it to a football crowd roaring approval or condemnation collectively. They are saying to the enemy, “You shall not pass!” She, too, was protecting her house. She was saying, “You shall not pass. You shall not encroach on my humanity anymore!”
Highway 280 north at 10:00 on a Saturday night is late and far from home for a preacher. It’s a rare Saturday that finds us ranging that far from Littleville. But we made it back in a van crowded with two sleeping boys, Rosa Parks, and 87,451 football fans.