Out There: Rejoicing over the insignificant

Jumping... is the body’s way of reacting to joy, gladness, delight, elation so great, so overpowering that the body simply can't contain it.

Illustrative picture of man and boy cheering (photo credit: Pepe Fainberg)
Illustrative picture of man and boy cheering
(photo credit: Pepe Fainberg)
Some two weeks ago, deep, deep in the middle of the night, my nephew – a kollel student in Jerusalem – and I leapt off the couch in complete unison, screaming silently (so as not to wake those in my house sleeping at 3 a.m.) hugging and jumping and chest-bumping in a wild, ecstatic dance.
Improbable Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow had just thrown an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime, leading the Broncos – in my mind the Israel of America’s National Football League – to a stunning victory in the playoffs over the Pittsburgh Steelers. (There is no real reason why I consider them the Israel of the NFL, other than because I just really like them a lot).
The genuine, unbridled joy which that pass stirred in our hearts – my nephew, who in his daily routine pores over Talmud and devotes himself to the holy; and me, who on a daily basis devours newspapers and deals with the mundane – was real and palpable.
We literally jumped for joy.
Jumping, it seems, is the body’s way of reacting to a joy, a gladness, a delight, an elation so great and so overpowering that the body simply cannot contain it. And then I ran to phone my father, who was surely jumping as well in his living room near San Francisco.
For with whom else could I share this magic moment? The Wife was asleep, and anyhow she is sadly partial to the Chicago Bears. My daughter was completely uninterested.
My sons were all away, and besides, this Great Victory did not have the same meaning for them as it did for me.
Not born in Denver, but good lads still, they humored me over the years by feigning an interest in the Broncos and their exploits. They didn’t fool me. They have never been to a game, never sat in the freezing snow watching the Broncos get thumped, never had beer spilled over their backs by an overzealous fan sitting a row behind. They do not know the team’s history or lore. Floyd Little means nothing to them.
To watch games with my sons – just me and my boys doing what I once did with my dad – is often an unfulfilling and disappointing experience, since much of the time I have to explain the rules.
“What’s a facemask penalty?” my middle son asked a few weeks earlier.
“Oy,” I thought, trying to explain something that to me at his age was as evident as the color of the sky. To paraphrase Yitzhak Shamir and his words about the Poles and anti-Semitism, my boys did not imbibe the love of the Broncos with their mother’s milk.
But my father, now there was a man who could relate.
“The Denveeeerrrrr Broncos,” he screamed into the phone, mimicking a local radio announcer. “The Denveeeerrrrr Broncos!” I could picture the scene. He, on his feet yelling, his mood transformed, his face joyous, his dog hiding under a bed somewhere.
“Son,” he said, “I haven’t been this excited since the day you were born.”
And he meant it. We talked about the game, about its greatness, about how this would make our day, our night – indeed, how it would make our week. And then, close to 4 a.m., I lay my head down to sleep, but slumber didn’t come.
I was still too pumped up by behemoths thousands of miles away, including the star quarterback who fervently and publicly professes his Christian faith at every turn, something that bothers me not at all, playing a game which – truth be told – is completely meaningless. Not meaningless in terms of the NFL season and the overall playoff picture, but meaningless in the greater, cosmic sense. Meaningless in the sense that in the realm of what truly matters, this truly did not matter a whit.
Which troubled me. Why should something so unimportant, something that will certainly be forgotten tomorrow and has no impact on my life, my family or my people, arouse in me such unadulterated joy? By 4:10 a.m., still unable to sleep, I was annoyed with myself for being immature.
Was I crazy for staying up so
late, skewing my body’s clock for the next day or two? For what? Was I still a kid who really thought it important who won the Super Bowl? I used to think that, until I reached the age of maturity, well past my bar mitzva, and realized that sports seasons come and go, today’s winners are soon forgotten, and the satisfaction you feel at your team’s success – which is not really yours anyhow because you did nothing to earn it – is completely ephemeral.
But still, this Broncos joy was real. And then it hit me.
Why not? What’s wrong with it? Why feel guilty about feeling good, even if what makes you feel good is so totally stupid? It’s a cold, cruel world out there, what with t h e Iranians menacing, the Islamists marching, the Palestinians threatening, the government fiddling and the prices rising.
Why not grasp at feeling happy, whatever the source (within well-defined limits, of course). Sure, a better, more complete man might feel this same elation at listening to a Beethoven symphony, or deciphering a difficult Talmudic passage, or reading one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. For me, at that moment, it was Mr. Tebow and the Denver Broncos.
Unfortunately, that moment did not last long. The next week the Broncos were beaten. No, the Broncos were clobbered.
This time there were no 3 a.m. jumps and hugs and chest bumps, only early morning groans and moaning. I called my father and together we cursed the team. Yet I got over the loss quickly, and that day’s low did not reach anywhere near the high of the week before.
Heck, I consoled myself, it’s only a game.