I was at Notre Dame stadium last weekend, enjoying a family tailgate before the USC-Notre Dame football game. At one point, it was time to take one of my daughters over to a gate to meet her friend, so my husband and I agreed to meet inside, and my daughter and I left. After leaving my daughter with her friend, I entered my designated gate and joined the crowd past the entrance, past the concessions, with those waiting to emerge from underground to the stadium itself.
As I stood in the crowded line, I found myself next to two men, looking to be in their early 30s. They were decked out in Notre Dame gear — clearly fans. We were moving forward at the same rate toward the entrance, so we were entering at the same time. I hadn’t paid much attention to them until one addressed me directly.
“Is this your first Notre Dame game?”
I was taken a little bit aback. There were a lot of people going in. Why did he single me out? I looked around. Yes, he was talking to me.
“Oh,” I said, then laughed. “No, not at all. I’ve been attending games since I was a girl.”
“And you?” I added to be polite.
One of the men answered, “Well, it’s my first night game so I’m pumped.”
“That’s great!” I answered, “Night games are a lot of fun.”
We processed a little further into the crowd.
“So you’re sure it’s not your first game?” the other asked.
This was weird. Why did they keep inquiring?
“Yes, I’m sure,” I answered. I paused for a moment then said, “Now I am really curious. Why are you asking me this?”
The two men looked at each other. Then one said, “Well, we were watching you going in. It’s just that you are looking up, out of the tunnel at the sky, like you are really excited and happy to be here. You have this look on your face like a kid. We just thought this was your first game.”
“Oh…” Then not knowing what else to say, I continued, “Well, I am happy and excited to be here.”
“We can tell,” one answered.
“It’s just nice to see,” said the other.
Our line forward into the stadium began moving quickly, and the two men veered off to the right, while I was going left.
“Enjoy the game!” one yelled, and they both disappeared into the crowd.
As I headed up the steps to our family’s designated seat, almost immediately the words of my dad in my youth came to mind: You never know who is watching. Be an example. While I’m sure my father did not have smiling and exuberant attitude upon entrance at a Notre Dame game in mind when he said this (I rather thought he was counseling me to be on my best behavior no matter where I went), still it made sense. Walking into the stadium I wasn’t doing anything on purpose, but just a little genuine happiness had drawn the attention of two strangers. They somehow felt compelled to comment on the joy I must have had on my face. Yes, joy! That was it. That’s what they noticed. And I wasn’t even trying.
What I didn’t tell these two strangers is that for many years I tended my little children, which made it difficult to attend games. I wouldn’t trade the baby raising for the world, but I sure appreciate the relaxation and simultaneous excitement of a game now. Also, after having lived through cancer, annoying little things (like waiting in line) don’t bother me, and treasurable little things (like attending a college football game with my husband and children) make me truly happy. As I age my life experiences, both good and bad, have also simply made me more grateful.
Then I had another thought: Joy is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. What a benevolent God to give this gift to me at this time, even if it was manifested in a small way. He allowed me (unknowingly) to be a little channel of His grace.
Isn’t our God amazing?
And then I had a final thought — if I can spread joy when I’m not even trying, how much more can I share when I am? As I sat down next to my husband and daughter in the stands ready to cheer on the Irish, I decided I will make a concerted effort in the days ahead to be a channel of God’s joy to everyone I meet … because people are watching, and it does make a difference.
I picked up my daughter’s hand and gave it a squeeze. Then I smiled at my husband. I think I will begin with them.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.” — Galatians 5:22.