Soccer….Family Style


I Remember in Gratitude

I woke up around 9:30 this morning with the sound of supporters chants echoing in my head and thought about where I was twelve years ago that moment compared to where I am today. I was filled with gratitude for the lessons I learned that day. There’s no way I would be waking up in Columbus with my two beautiful kids, basking in the afterglow of an epic night of soccer, had I not woken up on 9/11/01.

Pulling into work on 9/11, where I was supposed to spend the day selling and designing office furniture systems (that’s cubicles, to you civilians). Instead, I spent a few hours in shock in our conference room in Des Moines, watching the news, praying my family and friends back home in New York, New Jersey, and DC were OK. Slowly, details rolled in…my father wasn’t on an ill fated early flight from Logan. Friends emailed. My cousin got out of the Pentagon safely.

I gave up working around 10 AM, with the thought that not one single person cared about the miles of panel systems destroyed that day. My work was meaningless. There was no point to it ever, certainly not that day. I drove through downtown Des Moines, cowering under our tall buildings that I can’t call skyscrapers, but that fact didn’t stop them from piercing the bright blue sky so it bled out sunshine on Iowans who seemed oblivious to our world crashing down around us. I wanted to scream at them, shake them from their zombie state of Midwestern security. Instead, I went home and sobbed until my husband came home to sit with me at the Blood Bank. We waited there for hours, mainly because it was a refugee camp for Easterners in Des Moines diaspora. I couldn’t be alone, but had to be somewhere I could still take the phone call from my mom, phoning me at 7 PM Eastern to tell me she was still at the school in Montclair, NJ, where she was a teacher. She’d been with the elementary school kids waiting for their parents who couldn’t call, and may never get there, who were walking home from the City because that was the only way to get out that day. The last child had been picked up at 7 PM, and my mother could finally release all the emotion she couldn’t show to her students. Her grief poured out in a raging flood that tore through any composure I had, but my fellow refugees just nodded in understanding, put a hand on my shoulder, shared their stories from home with me.

My new world started to crystallize there, seeing that there was a community for me in Des Moines, and that that community would get you through the worst moments of your life. We finally went home and sat in front of horrifying news of the day, I felt a clarity settle over me. My life needed to change, radically and swiftly. This would be my personal judgement day, and what I brought to the world was found wanting by my own accounting. That just wouldn’t be acceptable for one more day.

I turned to my husband and said “I think we should have kids.” He swiveled his head away from the carnage on the screen, and with amazing restraint at the shock of my seven year established position of kid-free happiness making an abrupt about face, he said “Okay….” not at all revealing that he, in all likelyhood, had a mental institution ready on speed dial.

I explained that while we didn’t know details, it was pretty obvious that there were some pretty awful people in the world. We wouldn’t be able to impact getting rid of those people, but certainly, we were capable of raising a few kids who may not cure cancer, but would tip the good guy/bad guy ratio in our favor. He agreed, suggested we see if I still felt that way in a couple weeks, and low and behold, 13 months later, our beloved Wonder Woman (the supporter formerly known as Betsy Ross) was born.

During those 13 months, I resigned my position and started doing community work, first with the Des Moines Marathon, then with the Stadium Foundation, then with my own company. And I decided my life would be focused on things I cared about: family, work that was meaningful, and soccer. I met someone this weekend who, when I introduced myself, said in shock, “You’re Tanya Keith? I’ve heard of you.” This is a phase I hear more often, although it is still strange to me, particularly when delivered with a tone that adds layers of ambiguity in exactly what reputation precedes me. He clarified, “I heard you’re a force of nature.” How’s that for my next business card? “Tanya Keith, Force of Nature.”

This soccer trip with my family, with all of you, who told me so many great stories, seeing that beautiful game, that ended in another dos a cero moment for us to share, it all happened for me because of the person I became twelve years ago. Maybe it takes an unspeakable tragedy to get clarity about your life, but I hope not. I try every 9/11 to evaluate (convenient that it comes in the season of atonement for my JewCrew buddies and I) if my life is authentic and meaningful. I try every year to not get lost in the sadness of what we lost, but in gratitude for the lessons I learned and the place I was delivered to by those lessons.

Last night, the energy and love for US Soccer that poured out of Columbus was even more healing for me than the game they hosted last year. I love being in any supporter section, but last night in Columbus was something special. In the mist of goal celebrations’ beer, smoke, and sheer unadulterated joy, the Nordecke elevated me to something I can only describe in Charles Boehm’s new word: it was #DosaCeroazo.

I am filled with gratitude, US Soccer loving nation. I hope you are all out there, being a force of nature in something you love, with people you love.

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