They stood tall, equidistant from each other, shining light which converged on a snow-dusted field beneath a royal blue sky.
There was no pitcher on the mound, no batter in the box, no manager crouched on the dugout steps, no fans in the stands. But the lights were on.
The “Be the Light” movement came to Crookston on Monday. It started in Dumas, Texas, on March 24, when Brett Beesley decided to turn on the lights of his high school’s football field. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has put all of America on social lockdown, the Dumas principal thought the lights might serve as a symbol of hope and assurance, as well as a reminder to high school athletes that have seen their seasons suspended or cancelled: you are not forgotten.
What started in Dumas spread throughout Texas and the rest of the country. John Millea of the Minnesota State High School League tweeted that 236 schools in the state participated on Monday night. Crookston had two fields lit up — Jim Karn Field, where the Pirates play baseball, and Ed Widseth Field on the University of Minnesota Crookston campus, where the Pirates play football.
I drove past Jim Karn Field on Monday. I didn’t stop the car, I just gazed out the window (social distancing still applied). I took in the view and then tried to think about what it all means.
I wouldn’t call myself pessimistic or cynical, but I’ve never been too inclined towards sentimentality. I don’t often find myself caught up in the latest inspiring viral challenge. I tend to look at these things, shrug, and think “well, what’s the harm?” The implication being that there’s no benefit either.
U.S. health officials have predicted that this week would be the deadliest of the pandemic so far. Per NBC News, 1,200 people died Monday alone, bringing the country’s death toll to nearly 11,000. Families are losing loved ones. Workers are being laid off and furloughed. People are suffering, anxious over their friends, families and futures.
What does turning some lights on for 20 minutes really do to help?
But I’m guilty of mistakes all the time. In this case, it’s the idea that we can’t effectively distribute our empathy. That we can’t mourn multiple losses at once. That we can’t think about the big things and do something about them while we’re taking care of the little things. That these little things aren’t important and valid in their own right.
In the grand scheme of things, this is a little thing. But in the scope of our lives, these are bedrocks that have been taken away. Going to a restaurant with friends or inviting them over to watch a movie. Being able to turn on the TV and watch our favorite teams play. Kids devoting months and years of their lives to their sports, all building towards a final season that now maybe won’t ever come.
Flatly, these things suck. It’s totally okay to mourn them.
Maybe something as simple as turning the lights on at a baseball stadium can help that process. In its own way, it’s showing that a pandemic can’t get rid of sports, the people who watch them and the athletes who play them.
When a high schooler strikes someone out, hits a 3-pointer or kicks a field goal, they might not be saving anybody’s life in the process — they’re just playing sports. But the lights were on at Jim Karn and Ed Widseth on Monday night because we miss sports, and we miss these athletes. The lights were on because sports matter, and the athletes playing them matter.
It’s a hint of normalcy in anything-but-normal times.
And if even one anxious senior looks out the window, sees the lights and feels even the slightest bit of happiness, then maybe it’s all worth it.
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