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Aftermath

Friday, 11 November 2011

Hardliners - Holcombe Waller (mp3)

Let's imagine you and your family just crawled out of your nuclear shelter, having hunkered down in that space since the Cuban Missile Crisis. That's about the only way you could live in America and not know the name Joe Paterno.


What unfolded at Penn State University this past week -- over the past decade, actually -- has created a level of debate and discussion that football fanatics, detractors, or apathetic sideliners can jump in with both feet. The drama involves the destroyed innocence of children, the abuse of power, a well-known sports figure, and the world ending because of a whimper rather than a bang.

The perceived male mentor turned predator of boys -- unspeakable.

The downward-trending descriptions as the event went up the chain of command, from "rape" to "inappropriate contact" to "horseplay" -- uncanny.

The image of thousands of intelligent college students in a mild riot not because of children being victimized, but because of hero worship -- unthinkable.

But what's worth remembering this morning is that, alongside this quiet and slow-developing horror story is a another old as Whoville and the Grinch: the tale of what happens to a community when bad shit lands on the doorstep.

On Saturday, roughly 107,000 people -- a record crowd -- crammed into Beaver Stadium and locked arms. Every player, coach and staffer from both Penn State and Nebraska huddled in the middle of the field to pray. The level and potency of the collective grief was stunning to view, even from a living room in Tennessee.

The cynic could complain that everything was too carefully choreographed, that the entire scene was arranged by propagandists and marketing teams hired to improve a rock bottom opinion of all things Nittany Lion while also warming the confused and hurting hearts of its students, fans and alumni.

Maybe so. Maybe most modern pop music and everything my children encounter on TeenDisney or TeenNick is scientifically crafted by entire groups of songwriters to elicit specific emotional responses. But sometimes an event deserves and requires us to move a step beyond our cynicism.

Watching people of all ages mourning a flood of different issues was powerful regardless of whether the scenario was manufactured. The end of an era, the loss of innocence, the confusion and frustration that a string of events with only one clearcut no good terribly awful person could bring down a legend and possibly a program. But at least everyone in that stadium were in the same place, feeling the same things, in a communal way.

From national events like September 11 to local events like the tragic death of a student. Aftermath is a powerful, magnetic force. That it pulls us together doesn't make it a good thing, but in dark times, we reach and hunger for the tiniest bits of light we can muster.

For all the heavy judgment and debates going on like a hurricane around and inside the Penn State campus, and when the light is hard to come by, at least huddling together in the darkness provides some warmth.

Everyone deserves a little of that.

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