-24-

Dawn.

Yesterday, washed with the shore. Today, risen with the doves.

Hot mugs, torn bindings — a compelling start.

Whisking worries, precious prayers, distant dreams.

A new sun brings light. Creates promise. Drives creation.

There is hope in the world, when the rooster crows.

Noon.

Elevators and handshakes and the Times and screens.

Pulled from here to there: the goal? Stay true.

But the collar pulls tight and the walls ring blank.

The clock ticks leisurely and the coffee is cold.

There is profit in the world, when the coat drapes shoulders.

Dusk.

There’s the sun, again. It’s been too long, old friend.

The plates are on the table and the six o’ clock news is on the set.

Would you stay awhile? Kick up your feet and wet your lips?

Tomorrow, it will come. Tonight, we dance.

There is love in the world, when the table is full.

Midnight.

The stars waltz, the moon hangs, the sky awakens.

The trees whisper bedtime tales of the days of long ago.

She’s asleep, the sun, there’s peace beneath the pines.

For a moment, there is silence. There is tranquility. There is stillness.

There is peace in the world, when the owl makes its bed.

 

— David Ray

Advertisements

Truth and Action

Often it takes moments of backbreaking pain or breathtaking ecstasy to bring us to realizations. Often in the mundane, in the day-to-day, in the nine-to-five, nothing changes. Often it takes victory laps, sunsets, or concession speeches, for us to wake up to the world around us.

At the mountaintops of life, the moments of confetti and kissing in the kitchen, you find this to be a pretty good world, after all. It all worked out, just like they said it would. And in the canyons and valleys, the moments of cold pillows and empty seats, you find this to be a pretty cruel world, after all. It never worked out, just like they said it wouldn’t.

This week, a lot of us have found ourselves at one of these two points. Elation for some, desolation, for others. And although it took me a few days to come to grips with what has happened and put my fingers to these keys, I have found some solace.

From E.B. White, this:

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

This is a quote that resonated with me when I was in the mountains in Maine, a few summers ago. I underlined it like crazy, drew arrows, the whole nine yards. It just made sense. There are only so many hours in the day, and there are so many places I want to see and so many things I want to do. Is it possible to save the world and savor it? Is it bad to want to do both?

I would say this is innate for us, to try to find a happy medium.

But I can tell you now more than ever, it should be easy to plan our days. We should arise in the morning with the desire to save the world.

It’s not always quitting jobs and packing bags, though, it’s driving across town when your grandson has a flat tire and sitting with that man at church who has dialysis twice a week. It’s acting. It’s living out love does.  It’s not trying to fix people and what they think or do, and just being with them.

From 1 John, this:

“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

A chapter that I often turn back to in times of doubt and confusion, 1 John 3, has never felt more apt. There are plenty of things we can get bogged down with in life. Many of them good things to worry and think about, like who our president will be and work and play and beauty. These things happen.

But here in 1 John, we get a beautiful reminder. A reminder that we ought to get more often. Jesus painted love on the cross and told us to be love and hope and a bastion of peace for our neighbors.

How can we not do that in return for Him? How can we not try every single day to arise as the moon rests its head and be better. And do better. And speak truth. And love. And never forget why we get to arise, in the first place.

Because we are called to love, like he loved us.

 

-45-

A word from Wendell Berry’s “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” for this morning. It’s never hit home more than now. And he puts it better than I ever could.

“Any observer would have to say that Christianity is fashionable at present in the United States. This might be a good thing, except that the observer, observing more closely, would have to conclude that to the extent that Christianity is fashionable, it is loosely fashionable. It seems to have remarkably little to do with the things that Jesus Christ actually taught.

Especially among Christians in positions of great wealth and power, the idea of reading the Gospels and of keeping Jesus’s commandments as stated therein has been replaced by a curious process of logic. According to this process, people first declare themselves to be followers of Christ, and then they assume that whatever they say or do merits the adjective ‘Christian’.”

I love you, and I am sorry.

-da

img_1644

The Night of the Unspeakable

There is a climax to every story. There is rising action and a resolution, but it is the climax that keeps you from putting the book down.

For some, this is a moment of great joy. It is cutting down nets and donning rings of silver.

For others, this is a moment of immense pain. It is one less banner in the rafters and a bullet hole sent straight through the heart of destiny.

For the North Carolina men’s basketball community, the night of April 4th, 2016, is a climax they will never forget, no matter how hard they try.

They will remember the hope of a Tar Heel five-point lead at halftime, the despair as Villanova ran away in the second-half and the elation following the Marcus Paige 3-pointer.

It was an evening that everyone in Tar Heel nation had marked on the calendar since the first tip of the basketball in November. It was an evening where legends roamed the hardwood. It was an evening where the boys in Carolina Blue could become immortal.

It was the night of the unspeakable.

***

Jeff Jones sat on the front steps of the University United Methodist Church minutes after Michael Jordan and the UNC basketball team won the 1982 NCAA Championship.

He rushed to Franklin Street, but as blue paint was flung and claustrophobia sunk in, he found himself watching the thousands of students from the elevated church steps.

“I remember being in the middle of the crowd,” Jones said. “The feeling of euphoria was pretty awesome.”

Jones was a freshman at UNC, then, and had been a Tar Heel fanatic since his childhood. Thirty-four years after that March evening when he sat on the church steps, he can still tell you every detail about the day Jordan shook his hand. It was an English 42 recitation, Film Criticism, in a tiny room in Hamilton Hall. Jordan walked in, sat beside him, turned and smiled, “Hi, I’m Michael.”

He remembers the minute details of Carolina basketball. A Walter Davis bandaged hand after the 1977 ACC Championship. A James Worthy missed free throw in 1982. A sleepless night after a season-ending loss to Georgia in 1983. The pain, the joy, they are all still fresh in his mind.

Jones, 53 years old, now, remembers watching the 2016 game from his home just as easily as when he cheered the Tar Heels on from Carmichael Arena.

“I kept thinking this is it — it’s over with,” Jones said, recounting the moment when Villanova held a six-point lead with less than two minutes to play.

But then Marcus Paige hit “The Shot” to tie the game. Falling to the floor, on one foot, almost posing for the camera, the fate of the season hung in the air, in the shape of an orange sphere.

“I’ve seen so many of those Carolina games where we made amazing comebacks,” Jones said. “But that’s one of the greatest shots I’ve ever seen.”

***

Pat James sat center court, three rows back, with his fingers glued to his keyboard when Villanova inbounded the ball with 4.7 seconds left.

After Paige’s shot, he rested for a moment, taking it all in, but then looked right back at his screen.

“When Marcus hit the shot, first it’s kind of hard not to take in the spectacle of it,” James said. “I don’t think anyone could predict what happened next.”

As the sports editor of the Daily Tar Heel and a senior at UNC, the intersection of work and fandom was never more evident. He had two tweets prepared for the DTH’s sports account: one, if the Tar Heels lost, the other if the game went to overtime.

“As soon as Ryan Arcidiacono passed the ball to (Villanova forward Kris) Jenkins, I was already editing the losing tweet,” James said. “I knew it was going in.”

Swish.

“I hit send, I stood up, they celebrate, and I’m watching it all happen as I’m packing my bag,” he said. “I wanted to get out as quick as I could, but I also didn’t care to watch it, as well, from a fan stand point.”

James was the first one out of the media section, hurtling toward the locker room. He pre-wrote part of his story, but after that ending, a blank canvas awaited him as he walked in a room of heartbroken men.

“I had to go over and shake (UNC sports information director Steve) Kirschner’s hand to tell him thank you,” James said, “And in that corner on the left side is Hubert Davis with his hands in his face and there’s Roy [Williams] shaking his head.”

As a senior, covering the last basketball game of his career as the sports editor, the gravity of the moment began to sink in. Sure, he would cover a few baseball games, and yes, he would edit plenty more stories — but this was it. This was what the whole year had built up to. Now he must write.

And how can you do that, in a moment like this? How is it possible to put the emotions, the memories, the power of that game, into words?

“All day, you’re thinking about it,” James said. “Eventually you’re going to have to put your fingers on the keyboard and pound this thing out.”

“While hopefully I’ll get to cover some big stuff down the road, what could possibly get bigger than this?”

***

Marcus Paige sat in the back of the locker room, Gatorade towel draped around his sweating neck, with dozens of microphones in his face.

The point guard had surely spent many nights dreaming about that moment. The moment where he could hit a shot, acrobatic and beautiful, that would give his team a chance to win at the most crucial moment of the game, with his back firmly against the wall.

And he did.

Yet, here he sits, with tears in his eyes.

“That was supposed to be our moment,” Paige said. “I’m going to see it, and it’s going to hurt every time.”

He would never make another 3-pointer, as a Tar Heel. He would never run down the court calling a play, as a Tar Heel. He would never sprint out of the tunnel to a roaring crowd in the Dean Smith Center wearing no. 5, as a Tar Heel.

“It’s hard,” Paige said, “because at some point tonight I have to take this jersey off, and I never get to put it back on.”

For four years, Paige worked every day for the chance to sit in that locker room and take questions from reporters. It’s what motivated him. The awards were great, the kind words were fine, the regular season wins were important. But a national championship — that’s what kept Paige up at night.

He couldn’t help but look back at his time in Carolina Blue. The wins and the losses and the laughs and the tears. His jersey would be in the rafters in the Smith Center with dozens of others, but was that enough?

“You had to get to this level to be considered and to be remembered,” Paige said.

“There’s not a whole lot of guys that have done better than us if you think about it. It’s hard to say now because we were so close to being at the top of the mountain.”

Look down, Marcus. Look how far you climbed.

***

Julianne Strickland sat in the back of a black Nissan Sentra somewhere on a highway in Texas at 3:00 a.m., when someone finally brought it up.

What was it? Maybe it was Paige’s shot. Maybe it was the wrong shade of blue confetti pouring over them as the buzzer sounded. Maybe it was the aching feet from standing in the April, Texas heat. Until that moment, there was silence. Yes, a passing comment about getting gas or stopping to use the restroom, but not a word about the game.

Strickland dared the silence, “I thought we had it won.”

The sophomore and four other friends made the 21-hour trek to Houston to see the Final Four and National Championship games. They took turns driving, slept at a friend’s house at Rice University, and were the first people in line at 8:00 a.m. for the national championship.

“When I bought my tickets I had no clue how I was going to get there or where I would stay,” Strickland said, “But I just trusted that everything would work out.”

Back in the car, her head leaned against the rear window, with a Brice Johnson jersey on, the memories rushed back. From the second row of NRG Stadium, she witnessed one of the greatest endings in the history of the illustrious game of basketball.

“It went from one of the greatest moment of our lives to the worst,” she said.

But there’s no regret for Strickland. She would do it all over again in a heartbeat. What is a five-page paper, what is a good night’s sleep, what is a hundred bucks, to memories made?

“It’s like loving family members — no matter how many times you get upset or disappointed with them, they’re still your family,” Strickland said. “Yeah, my heart felt like it was ripped in two, but I can’t stop loving this team.”

“I will always cheer for those players because they make it feel like I’m part of their family.”

-da

-365-

In the past year, I have stood in dozens of locker rooms, from holding back tears in Houston after a national championship loss to holding back laughs in Charlotte when Cam Newton waltzed around singing tunes. I have spent a summer in the nation’s capital working for a sports agency, from holding back screams when Larry Bird was on the phone to holding back screams (again) in DC traffic. I have moved into a house (goodbye dorms), I have seen my favorite bands, I have read too many books, and I have loved every minute.

And you’ve been there for it all. A year ago on this day I bought davidrallenjr.com, and I never imagined the stories I would be able to tell.

I have mourned Grantland, reminsiced about granddaddy, celebrated my beautiful parents, and cried about the Braves (happens more often than you think).

I have written poetry, discussed my favorite lyrics, remembered those who inspired me, and remembered my Father, who died for me.

I have loved my dogs, my siblings, my friends (and our home), my church , and yes, I told you what words mean the most to me.

And you have listened. Somehow, 8,981 of you have read one of these stories. And for that I am forever thankful.

I do not know what my life will be like on November 1st, in 2017, but I will do my very best to ‘act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly’ (Micah 6:8), and I’ve got a funny feeling we’ll all be just fine.

-DA

Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

-Wendell Berry

The Prodigal Team

Mark Wohlers threw it. Marquis Grissom caught it. The Atlanta Braves won it. The year, 1995.

It took the Braves six games to defeat the Cleveland Indians in the 1995 World Series. The demons — a pair of losses to the Twins in 1991 and the Blue Jays in 1992 — were squashed and tossed in the corners of the champagne stained locker room, the moment Fred McGriff commenced the dog pile on Javy Lopez. The Atlanta Braves were World Champions.

I’d like to think I kicked in my mother’s stomach that night.

While she watched from a two-bedroom home in Shelby, North Carolina, my dad was just down the road, broadcasting a high school football game on the radio. In between breaths, he leaned over trying to catch a peek of his Braves on the television strategically placed in the booth.

When the baseball landed in Grissom’s glove and Fulton County Stadium went delirious in uproar, my dad couldn’t help but let out a yelp on air — I’d like to think he wished I was with him that night.

***

I was born in March of 1996, just five months after that October celebration. As I was being passed around from one relative to the next, the Braves were at Spring Training and had been dubbed “the team of the 90s.”

It couldn’t be a better time to be born into Braves fandom. In that decade Atlanta went to five World Series’, boasted three hall of fame pitchers and drafted a franchise player in Chipper Jones.

So as soon as I could walk, I was reaching for a baseball and dragging a glove everywhere. My dad would back the car out of the garage, and I would throw the ball against the wall for hours.

I was playing for the Braves, you see. I was the star pitcher, the clutch hitter and the revered manager. I was the Most Valuable Player. I was the baseball card every kid dreamed of unwrapping from the pack.

My parents had to haul me in from outside every night. They would bathe me in my Braves colored bathroom, tuck me in under my Braves bedspread, and help me say my prayers, all under a Chipper Jones poster.

My first pilgrimage to Atlanta came in the summer of 2002 with my dad and granddad. It was an out-of-body experience. Chipper was feet away from me. Marcus Giles signed my book “Best Wishes, David!” Atlanta’s stadium, Turner Field, was so much bigger than my garage.

I still have the ticket stub. First base line. Row 7. Seat 5. Section 119. God, is this what Heaven is like?

IMG_1273.jpg

***

This isn’t a story solely about games and numbers, but they have to be included. The arc doesn’t make sense — the narrative is incomplete — without understanding the agony.

The Braves weren’t a bad team. And that’s the thing. They were great. They were promising. They were fun to watch. They won at least 88 games for 11 years in a row. They have been to two World Series since I’ve been alive. But they just couldn’t win them. And that — that is worse than anything else.

The first playoff game I ever went to was on October 7, 2002, for the final meeting of the Braves-Giants Divisional Series. Dad and I piled in his 1996 Honda Accord and drove 211 miles in brutal interstate traffic to Turner Field. My excitement was unparalleled. Christmas morning joy couldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath.

At least that’s what it felt like when I took my seat for the first pitch. Because after the Giants won 3-1 behind a Barry Bonds home run to win the series, it was like Christmas morning with lumps of coal under the tree.

But the nightmares didn’t end there.

There was 2004, when the Braves blew a 2-1 divisional series lead at home to the Astros. There was 2005, when the Braves played the Astros again in the divisional series and took the final game to 18 innings, but lost on a walk off home run. There was 2010 when Atlanta second baseman Brooks Conrad made two errors in the bottom of the ninth in what felt like a sealed game against the Giants. The horror stories continued to pile. There were playoff losses to the Dodgers and Cardinals in heartbreaking fashion, too. There were trades, free agent signings, management changes, and everything in between. It was simple: the Braves couldn’t finish. But dad and I couldn’t seem to stop caring.

***

For me, life as a Braves fan revolved around three things: My dad, Chipper Jones and losing when it counted.

I was only a Braves fan because of my dad. I didn’t choose the Braves, I was born, bred and baptized as a Braves fan. It was dad who drove while I slept on the way to Atlanta. It was dad who threw ball with me in the backyard every night. It was dad who taught me to appreciate the sport, the team and even the misery.

 

IMG_1272.jpg

If dad made me a Braves fan, Chipper Jones kept me a Braves fan. I played third base not because I wanted to, but because Chipper did. I put a wad of sunflower seeds in my mouth when I stepped to the plate because Chipper did. I tried to be a switch hitter because Chipper was.

And as for the losing, that was just part of the game. It was always just a series of tumultuous events that left me in tears every season, but it was nothing that would stop me from finding a new team. That wasn’t an option.

So in 2012 when Chipper decided he was going to retire, my dad, brother and a few of my friends made the trip to Atlanta to see our hero play in person, once more.

After $20 worth of hot dogs and sodas that September evening, the Braves found themselves down four runs going into the bottom of the ninth. Again, it felt as if the four-hour drive to Atlanta was for naught. But a rally emerged.

I remember it like it was yesterday. There was a Reed Johnson base hit. Then a pair of walks to Paul Janish and Michael Bourn. Yes, then a lucky error by the Philadelphia defense. And all of a sudden two runs scored and Chipper had a chance to win the game with one swing of the bat.

Of course, you know the story. I wouldn’t be telling the story if he struck out. Chipper hit the ball a mile into the right field bleachers. I don’t know if it ever landed, to be honest. It may still be in orbit.

Dad was on the ground in a matter of seconds. He was rolling down the steps, losing his glasses and his sanity. I did the opposite, collapsing into my seat, praying to God I wasn’t dreaming. And after collecting ourselves, we hugged. We hugged for what felt like an eternity. I cried, because we won. And Chipper hit it. CHIPPER HIT IT. We won. Really, WE WON.

The Braves could have lost every game for 16 years, and in that moment it wouldn’t have mattered. Nothing mattered. It was just a normal, unimportant, regular season game. Just one of 162 they played that season. But to us, it was the game. It was the game I would tell my children about one day to remind them there is hope as a Braves fan.

High school graduation could come knocking. College could come knocking. The real world could come knocking. And eventually I would have to answer. Eventually, the little boy snoring in the sleeping bag, sprawled out in the back of the car on the way to Atlanta would have to sprout from his Braves colored room for something bigger. And we both knew that.

So we hugged, cried, and never wanted to leave Turner Field.

The Braves won. And not another damned thing mattered.

Because tonight, we were together.

David Ray Allen Jr.

 

IMG_1271.jpg

– f m s –

After a trip through the Gospels over the past month, I compiled my favorite things Jesus said, and created this poem. As it did to me, I hope it serves as a cold splash to the face. A reminder that Jesus said many beautiful things, all of which challenge the very core of our humanity. To sell our possessions in order to follow him, to deny ourselves and turn the other cheek, to love our neighbors including our enemies, and to remember it is finished and to feed his sheep.

Come, follow me.
Become fishers of men.
Ask and it will be given to you.
Let the dead bury their own dead.
Go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor.
Enter through the narrow gate.

Turn your cheek.
Do not judge or you will be judged.
He must deny himself and take up his cross.
First, take the plank out of your own eye.
Where are they? Has no one condemned you. Neither do I.

Take courage, it is I.


Love your neighbor.
Change and become like little children.
Look at the birds of the air.
Love your enemies.
Lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Stay here and keep watch.

It is finished.

Do not be afraid.
That your joy may be made full.
For where your treasure is, your heart will be also.
Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.
Feed my sheep.

-David Ray
Each line was pulled from a passage in the four canonical gospels, where Jesus was speaking.