Photo By Hillary Ehlen
I don’t know what comes next. But I don’t fear it. As uncertain as our future is – like the future at any other point in time of our shared history, it is nothing if but uncertain – we’ll come through the other side of this. It won’t be unscathed. We have picked up some scars along the way. And we’ll probably pick up a few more before the dawn. The important thing is that we keep going, that we just keep going. One small step at a time. One foot in front of the other.
The rhythm of our daily lives has been disrupted with the absence of time-honored traditions, like North Dakota State football, which for some of us stretches back decades to Dacotah Field. I went to my first Bison game in late November 1990, a playoff game, right around Thanksgiving with my dad, brother, and grandpa. I miss it, man. I miss it fiercely. I don’t miss the football as much, though, as the simple things like having a cold beer in the Fargodome parking lot with my Grandpa Jim at tailgating, or running into guys like Brent Tehven at Herd and Horns during Friday lunch the day before the game. Those are ties that bind.
Some years ago, NDSU was upset at home. I can’t remember who we lost to, but recall walking out of the Fargodome to our tailgater disappointed. Grandpa Jim saw me, sort of smiled that grandfatherly grin while shaking his head, and said something to the effect of, “You look like you could use a beer.” He handed me one, and we stood there in silence for a good long while just taking pulls from our cans as the parking lots cleared out. Here we are, years later, and for the life of me I can’t tell you who we played or what decided that game. What I can tell you is that the memory of standing there with my grandpa, doing something as simple as sharing a beer, is a memory of Bison football that stands out – among Frisco trips, or even wins at Iowa or Kansas State – all these years later.
Those are the mystic chords of memory that will swell our hearts once again.
Maybe not tomorrow, next week or next month. Our borderline, seemingly hopeless sense of optimism has pulled us through the fires before. Comparisons abound between this year and 1968, perhaps the only other year in the last half-century or so that’s seen as much tumult, discord, and strife. What we too often forget about 1968 is how it ended.
While it doesn’t erase what happened that year, it serves as an important reminder. On December 24, 1968, the crew of NASA’s Apollo 8 entered lunar orbit, becoming the first humans ever to reach orbit around the moon.
That night, on Christmas Eve, as the moon’s gravity hugged their humanly vessel as it graced the starlit heavens, Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders broadcast live back to Earth in what was then the most-watched television program in history. The crew of Apollo 8 closed their broadcast by reading from the Bible’s Book of Genesis. When Lincoln gave his address at Gettysburg in November 1863, at the darkest of times in our nation’s history, could he have imagined three of his countrymen reading the Bible from lunar orbit? When Borman, Lovell, and Anders broadcast from lunar orbit, could they have imagined that within 50 years, there’d be more computing power and access to knowledge in something called an iPhone than there was in their entire space capsule?
George H.W. Bush once said that “I do not mistrust the future. I do not fear what is ahead. For our problems are large, but our heart is larger.”In our heart of hearts, even in a year where the daily deluge of news stories is one prolonged breaking news bulletin after another, there is goodness among us. This goodness can rise above and overcome. We have always faced challenges and problems. That is not unique in our history. What would be unique is if we gave up now, in the face of adversity, and stopped fighting for a better tomorrow. We shall overcome. The story of our university, communities, and America is that we have faced those challenges and problems together.
Maybe it’s a naïve sense of optimism and togetherness that comes from growing up in a place like Maddock, North Dakota. Times were tough there in the 1980s like they were in large swaths of rural and inner-city America. But we survived, and Maddock still survives.
Maybe it’s a hope born from something as simple as sharing a beer in the Fargodome parking lot with my Grandpa Jim after a Bison loss. Maybe it harkens back to that passage in Genesis that Commander Borman shared with the assembled humanity listening back home in December 1968:“And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”
In this season of Thanksgiving, I can’t tell you what comes next. I can’t tell you when Bison football will play next, or when I’ll get to have a beer with Grandpa Jim in the Fargodome parking lot. But whenever that is, and whatever comes next, we will face it together, just like we have countless times before. And for that, I give thanks.