Spreading joy germs

This weekend, two great traditions merge. Disparate calendars align to pair Thanksgiving with a sacred holiday that is celebrated across this great nation, but that also transcends nationality. This annual celebration began many long years ago in a land far, far to the East. It is often misunderstood (or rather, under-understood). Yet everyone is welcome to join in the peaceful contemplation of the holiday, from the most devout to the casual observer who celebrates simply for the sake of marital harmony. I am talking, of course, about the collegiate football match between Ohio State and Michigan.

I’ll be rooting for the Buckeyes this Saturday. Unless, dear reader, you are from the state of Michigan, in which case I’m … nope, I can’t even say it as a joke. You’re going down. Choke on the poisonous nut that is our mascot!

This football game matters to me deeply and emotionally. It might be the first game I’ve watched all year, but that’s OK, because this one is The Game. For the last day of the regular season, the young men in scarlet and gray are my boys: always have been, always will be. Never mind that I did not personally attend Ohio State. Never mind that the most organized football I ever played was on the bark chip playground in middle school. Never mind that I have never, ever lived in the Midwest. Those classic red uniforms have won my loyalty and my devotion, my tears and my most creative cursing.

You wonder why I care so much? Take a look in the frosted-glass Broncos mirror, buckaroo. Why do any of us care about any sports teams for whom we do not, in any technical sense, play? What are these sports really all about?

Sure, money, money, money drives professional sports, which can be a real turn-off to those of us “working” for a living. But… money might manipulate college sports even more. These athletes, “amateur” only because they aren’t getting paid, put their bodies on the ground, shred their hamstrings and batter their skull cavities so that a bunch of university presidents and tortilla chip executives can get stinky filthy rich. Yet the NCAA will suspend these young gladiators for merely receiving birthday checks from their grandmas. Their thankful fans can’t even gift them small tokens of appreciation, like body art or sports cars.

True enough, some of these competitors receive academic scholarships for those studies they don’t have time to focus on because they’re too busy competing. Sounds fair, until you stretch the logic out to other professions. I for one cannot imagine a computer programming student discovering that she’s ineligible for paid internships or freelance work because of her “amateur” status. Or a stripper being suspended from dancing because he let a few presidents slip in his G-string on Amateur Night.

Like the programmers and strippers, who will all be unemployable in five years tops, these athletes are in the prime of their lives. They sacrifice their bodies and brains for the sake of a game, and yet very few in even the highest-profile sports advance to a playing career of any kind.

So… these sports aren’t about money. Not for the athletes, anyway. Nothing but pride and glory is in it for most of them. As for us fans, we never get to hoist the trophies. We never get to smack the athletes’ butts. We never get to dump the Gatorade jugs on their coaches. And yet we root and yell and roar as if the lives of our mothers depends on them tallying more score units than the other team.

This passion goes beyond the tribal enthusiasm of supporting a bunch of people in matching suits representing the places we live. Otherwise, we would paint our chests to cheer on the state legislature. I suspect we root not from the primal grind-your-enemies-into-talcum-powder part of our brains, but from a nobler place. Maybe it’s just Thanksgiving talking here, but I think we cheer because we find great joy in watching people participate in something they love doing. We’re thankful to see people pursuing their passions.

I’ll even take a step further than that. I think joy is contagious, and participating in a joyous activity is like allowing a field trip of very joyful third-graders to sneeze in your gaping, grinning mouth. You can’t help but catch what’s going around.

The best part? Only the Scroogiest among us build up a tolerance to joy. In fact, the more joy we expose ourselves to, the more of it we catch.

Instead of showing thanks just this one day a year, we could spread joy-germs to all those joy-creators who make us happy throughout the whole year. If you find joy in local chefs, toot your vuvuzela into their kitchens. If you find joy in your favorite librarians, tattoo their likenesses onto your newborns. If you find joy in local craft brewers, paint your face and yell at them as if they’re at the bottom of a goal-line dogpile in the Super Bowl.

(If you find joy in your free weekly alternative paper, shower its staff and writers with loads of chocolate and beer and coffee. But mostly beer. And chocolate. And coffee. The address is on the other side of this page.)

Since I don’t have enough babies to tattoo, let alone vuvuzelas and facepaint, I’ll have to settle for a simpler show of appreciation. It is Thanksgiving, after all. And the support of all of you – of Missy, Tracy and Lainie at the Telegraph, of all the other writers and photographers, and especially you readers who spend your toilet breaks with my words – has kept my writers’ spirits puffed like fluffy mashed potatoes. I appreciate each of you, even more (but not much more) than I appreciate a good trouncing at the hands of the Buckeyes.

If you root for Michigan, I promise to stop taunting you before the next great holiday on the American calendar, when families gather to partake of sinful food, sing along to traditional music, and wear silly hats. I’m talking, of course, about the opening day of baseball season.

– Zach Hively






In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows