Belonging

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I debated about whether or not to put this post on gregsmithmd-recharge.com or here. The main blog site won out, because I think the feeling of belonging, or the lack of it, is important to everybody and drives a lot of the pathology I see every day in clinical practice.

I went back to my hometown this past weekend to reconnect with some old friends. I also went back to be a small part of history. My alma mater, Berry College in Rome, Georgia, was fielding its first football team ever. This was the first game ever played on the gridiron by a school that only had intramural sports, soccer, tennis, basketball and various other sports teams when I was there from 1976 to 1979.

My friend and I got to the stadium downtown in what we thought was plenty of time to park, pick up tickets at the will call window, and get a good seat in the stands. Honestly, I expected a slim crowd, plenty of room to move about in the stadium and a mediocre showing by a young team that had never run on the field before. What I felt on arrival was so much different from what I had expected.

The crowd was tremendous. Lines everywhere to buy tickets, pick up tickets, and to get into the stadium itself. People milling about in Berry College branded t-shirts, hats, carrying pom poms, programs, and seat cushions, ready to watch some football. Inside was the same. Long concession stand lines that rivaled those of Sanford Stadium in Athens, GA, and countless other venues on a Saturday in the States. Excited kids, more excited adults acting like kids, and the ubiquitous group of painted college kids with fresh coats of silver and blue body paint, horned Viking hats and other props, ready to show their school spirit. The excitement was palpable, the air supercharged with institutional pride.

As we found our way into the stands and what had to be the only two seats left on that side of the field (the game was beyond sold out!), another surge of pride hit me. This was history in the making, sports history that was being documented by scores of still cameras and video cameras  and phones (including mine). This moment was being painstakingly recorded and would be seen by generations to come, those like me who would come back to “Old Berry tried and true” thirty, forty, or fifty years hence. These kids, like Martha Berry herself some hundred years ago, were trailblazers, and they knew it.

Another surprise at this game was the fact that the Model High School band, out of Shannon, Georgia, was the performing group for the halftime show. I played first trumpet and was section leader in that very band for years during my own high school career, marching in brutal heat like this and enjoying football games as a teenager in the seventies. I watched these kids in their bright blue and black uniforms, marching in what had to be hundred degree heat on the field, and felt another little surge of pride.  I had been there and done that. I was a part of this long blue line.

It’s normal and very healthy to want to be somebody, to belong, to be a significant part of a group.

I watched these kids on the field, the crazy adults in the stands, and the Berry administration in attendance, and I saw pride in an institution that a young woman in North Georgia started many decades ago to educate mountain children. I saw team spirit for a team that before that day had never run onto a field to play a single game. I saw excitement, hope, anticipation and folks just having good old-fashioned fun. I was so proud to be there that day, to be a part of the history of Berry College, a place where I grew up as a person and received an education that was a stepping stone towards what I do today. I owe the school a lot, and on this past Saturday, sitting in the stands in the broiling sun watching these kids pay their hearts out as Vikings, I could give just a little something back.

Oh yeah. The score.

We got pounded 37-0 by a much better Maryville Scots team.

Nobody cared.

At the end of that game, when the whole team joined hands on the sideline and sang the Berry College alma mater with the rest of the crowd in the stands, it was another defining moment in the long history and tradition of the school. Martha Berry started something magical in the north Georgia mountains that continues today. I think she would be in the stands cheering with the rest of us, and she would be very, very proud of “her boys” on that special day.

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