Bill Little commentary: Two dozen sandwiches
Sept. 9, 2011
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
As the Texas Longhorns get ready for Saturday’s meeting with BYU in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, emotions are sorted in many different stacks in our world. On the one hand, there is the excitement of the second game of the new era of football featuring Mack Brown’s young staff and their equally youthful players.
The flip side, of course, is that the game will feature a tribute to the events of September 11, 2001, when America’s mainland was attacked in what signified the first volley in a war that would be waged by terrorist aggressors. Throughout our country, much will be noted, and rightly so, about how much has changed because of that day.
It is also important, however, to think about what hasn’t.
In the summer of 1998, I took a solo trip through the northwestern states of Washington, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. The beauty of the country reminded me that God was on a roll when he made the mountains. But it was in Yellowstone National Park that reality really struck me. There, in the historic park, were the scars of the epic fires that had ravaged almost 800,000 acres in 1988. The remnants of charred log pole pines—some more than 100 feet tall—remained.
It had been ten years, and I guess the time frame with the events of 9/11 is what began to trigger the genesis of this commentary.
America has changed. Throughout these days, you will hear about the loss of liberty, the heightened security, enhanced distrust. We will remember our resolve of that day, and be sad by the loss of lives then, and in the longest war in our nation’s history which has followed. There will be reflections of disillusionment with our leaders as they deal with troubled foreign policies and a struggling economy. It will be noted that our churches swelled with people in the days after the tragedy, and yet have slowly dwindled in attendance since. Even the powerful patriotism which swelled inside all of us then has ebbed in some cynics.
Beyond that, here in Texas, we have just gone through the hottest summer and the worst drought in history. Our lakes are drying up and our rivers dwindle to a trickle.
We are a people living in fear. And that is why I am telling you this story - because at the heart of our soul and the fiber of our spirit, we also live in hope.
That is why that trip to Yellowstone matters. Underneath those burned trees were hundreds of new seedlings, healthy, green, and reaching for the nourishment of the sun and the skies.
History tells us that this is not the first, nor will it be the last, time we have walked through - if you will pardon the expression - the fire together. For 100 years, decade after decade, we have had those challenging times. Wars and depressions consumed moments during much of the first half of the 20th century. The “Greatest Generation” endured the days of the Dust Bowl and the horror of World War II. Those of us who grew up in the 1950s learned to fear the “Bomb,” as our big brothers died in a far off country called Korea. Then, too, Texas burned and baked in the years when it never rained. The sixties brought Vietnam and a myriad of protests, and in the seventies came the national disgrace of Watergate. Time after time, we have been there, and returned.
That is because America was founded by people who came - and keep coming - because of the hope of a better tomorrow. That is why men and women of our armed services fight and stand sentinel in distant lands to preserve our freedom. It is because of them that Saturday night, the teams of BYU and Texas can play a game called football. It is at that core that education lives, for the college game thrives because it is all part of a process of growing and learning. Learning the truth, the slogan on the UT Tower says, “shall make us free.” And that is the powerful extra benefit of education.
How we haven’t changed, you see, is that we are a free people. That means that our service personnel fight - not to make war - but to create peace. That means we remember those who died on 9/ll, and honor those who stand in harm’s way for us.
We have the capacity of the principles on which Mack Brown had built this football program - faith, family, friends and a common purpose. And we have something else as well.
With the arrival of the young football staff, a blessing that has accompanied that is the children who came with them. In the midst of one fall practice, as the receivers were running routes and the quarterbacks were pinpointing their throws, co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin looked up and saw his five-year-old son, Davis, playing with defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s kids among the blocking dummies on the far side of the practice facility. When a pattern came close to the youngsters, the Longhorns’ play caller stopped and shouted across the field to his son and the other boys.
“Davis…guys…move out of the way!”
To which his son sheepishly replied, “Okay.”
And then he added, “I love you, Dad.”
Our ability to love…that will always be with us.
In the last week, fires devastated many areas in Central Texas. One that you heard little about was a near-miss that came only a few feet from a close-in area of Northwest Austin called Angus Valley. The fire, in Yett Creek Park, endangered hundreds of homes, as well as the Riata Apartment complex. And that’s the final piece of this story.
Vigilance by homeowners, and quick work by firefighters, managed to stop the fire before it turned that part of Austin into a tragedy. Late in the evening, as neighbors gathered on the street to discuss the events of the day, two fire trucks continued to work at the edge where the Valley joined the park. It was then that one of the women came walking out of the woods.
“They need food,” she said. “There are 24 of them, and they will be there most of the night. Let’s go make them some sandwiches.”
The reality reminded us that brave folks had walked into that fire for us, just as the men and women of our armed services, police, fire and EMS do every day. What we had before 9/ll, and what we realized in that moment, is that whatever happens, we have each other.
That is thread that ties a football team, a community, and a people together. It is why we remember 9/11, with resolve, honor, and most of all, hope.