It was the summer of 1998. I was in Paris. Eleven years old and completely overwhelmed by voices loudly singing anthems and popular futbol chants. Faces painted in primary colors. Down the street they went arm-in-arm. Through the night I would hear a cacophony of riotous celebration and foreign insults hurled through the air in equal measure. It was my first introduction to the World Cup.
That year- France won.
Memories of that time are forever sewn into my mind. And every four years, I think of it again as I gather- at whatever time the matches play here- in whatever place I happen to be- to watch it unfold once more.
There are several sports events that I enjoy, a few that I tolerate, and some that I would do anything to avoid. But there is only one that I love. I love watching the World Cup. All of the emotion, passion, and investment that pours out over the weeks of nail-biting elimination. Trying to guess who will make it to the end. The ability one sport has to bring the world to the same table….staring on with bated breath, jumping in the air, hugging strangers. For so many, it isn’t just a game. It is hope and solidarity.
Through it, I can connect beyond any language barrier. And through it, I can track my own story. Each time that it rolls around, I recall where I was four years prior… eight years… twelve… sixteen…
Through an international rally around a game that my American mouth still wants to call soccer, I find myself doing some of the best reflection on my own life. I think back to watching games in a wood paneled family room. Fifteen-years-old and trying to understand the scoring system. I recall watching it in my college apartment during a summer term. I remember the year that I watched it alone in Seattle and then traveled back to NYC and watched it in crowded beer gardens….Yelling until I was hoarse, covered in spilled beer, embracing people I had just met. And the last time I watched match after match… Ezra was only two-years-old. I remember thinking I would be able to explain it all to him the next time around… and how very far away that all felt.
This year I watched it with a husband and baby by my side that I never could have imagined then. Nearly every minute of each match gobbled up by my eyes and ears. I cheered underdogs, rolled my eyes at exaggerated injury, and choked back tears when I saw the disappointment of loss. Because you see, as with so many things in life, it is more than it seems. It is, of course, about our stories and how these moments, when we all find ourselves cheering, bring us together. We can follow the trajectory of our lives through the places we have shouted in unison.
Yesterday, I baked a cherry clafoutis and donned a bracelet bearing the French flag. I watched every minute of the final. And I felt a swell of emotion during the rain soaked award ceremony. Drenched and downtrodden, the Croatian team made my heart crack. But I couldn’t help but stand and cheer when the French team took that trophy.
France won. And once again, I was that eleven year old girl, eyes shining behind my oversized glasses frames, taking it all in. I heard the chanting and it took me back to a Parisian summer. The summer I received a cultural education that no book could ever teach. The summer I saw how something so seemingly simple can, if only for a moment, bring the world together.
Allez Les Bleus!