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Born, Bred, Dead: Stages of an NCAA Championship Loss

 

It’s 11:37 a.m. and I’m waiting for the bus at the edge of campus. I’m still wearing last night’s clothes; my hair is in an unforgiving knot on the crown of my head and my makeup is smeared from a long night of tears after a Tar Heel loss.

My current physical state mimics the emotional state of every single person who passes me on the sidewalk.

The briskness of the late morning sends a shiver up my spine, a reminder that even God Himself is weeping with us in this incomparably depressed, heavy-hearted zip code. The bus arrives with a slow, screeching halt, and I board quickly, in an effort to get out of the cold and away from the painful gloom of Carolina’s campus.

It’s mostly empty inside. I sit at the front near two older men, one with unkempt curls falling over a faded windbreaker, the other with a Walkman and headphones that sat atop his ears, just high enough for his music to be heard throughout the otherwise silent bus.

They turn to me and say, almost in unison, “you must be cold.” I smile and reply that I had not expected the weather to be as heartbreaking as last night’s game, which is met with a few quiet chuckles, followed by a symphony of sad sighs.

I rest my head on the window above my seat asI  think back to the night before:

It was an emotional rollercoaster to rival all others, glorified by the sheer nirvana that came out of Marcus Paige’s last basket, only to be derailed by the crushing reality of Villanova’s last basket.

It was all over.

I had never actually experienced the feeling of my heart sinking all the way down to the floor. But there I was, among the other tens of thousands of students and fans, milling around Franklin street because my feet literally did not know where else to take me.

It was post-apocalyptic. Men cried in the arms of other men as He’s Not Here dismantled the overhead projector in their courtyard. A line of tortured fans formed around the block below Top of the Hill, expecting to drown their sorrows. The streets were flooded with grief.

No burning couches, no brave pole-climbers, even the police officers on duty expressed their desolation.

And yet, just ten minutes earlier, we had lost our voices to the utter astonishment of being tied with four seconds left. None of us even had our phones out to document it. That’s how invested we were in this moment. God forbid we get distracted by a text and miss the last few seconds.

Anything can happen in a few seconds. Anything.

The best advice I had ever gotten about moments like this was from the youth pastor at my home church, Reverend Susan Norman Vickers: a trusted leader and a loyal follower, a faithful friend and a vicious foe in a heated game of Spoons, a rare Duke and UNC fan. She seemed to have all the answers, but assured that she, too, was always learning.

Every time we had a lot of people together, whether it was a service project or group dinner, a church service or a casual moment fellowship, she would say, “take a minute to look around the room. Never again in your life will you be with these people, in this room, at this time, for this reason. It won’t ever happen again. Not like this, not exactly.”

There have been many times in my life that I have thought back to her instructions, that I tried to share it with others, but it was during this game that I finally understood the gravity of her advice.

Looking around the room, I considered how temporary this moment would be, how fleeting the fellowship was, regardless of the outcome of the game. Every single one of my people was huddled around a TV and a bowl of buffalo chicken dip, cheering on our alleged close personal friends playing their hearts out on a court down in Houston, during the most important, anxiety-inducing, enthralling basketball game of their college careers.It won’t ever happen again. Not like this, not exactly.

To have hundreds of thousands of people across the globe watching you put your heart on the line is something I will likely never experience. But to experience even a fraction of the passion, the perseverance, the pride despite the loss, I could not have been happier to be a Tar Heel born and bred.

Though this morning I surely feel Tar Heel dead, it is worth all of the fellowship of the past four years; it is worth the victories and the losses; it is worth the tiny infinity of our last basket during the 2016 NCAA National Championship game.

No three-pointer could take that away from any of us. Not even Nova’s.

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