It's a time to mourn for the Army football family

After two games of what was a life-giving season, the Army football family experienced a painful death -- and not a metaphorical one, either.

There will come a time when football matters again in West Point.

It could be Army's next game, It could be against Air Force. Who knows?

It doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter when football begins to matter again for the Black Knights.

No, when a member of a family dies, the grief, the mourning -- the celebration of a life's gifts, the cherishing of what a precious soul meant to a band of brothers -- must unfold.

Grief, sadness -- being torn apart at the profoundly premature loss of a friend, teammate and servant -- do not have a time clock. There is no scoreboard in which triple-zeroes hit and the sadness ends. Moments that make human beings weep, moments that shatter us to our cores, leave a permanent mark.

There's no more important task for every Army coach and player right now than to be together, giving thanks for what Brandon Jackson gave to a team, a community, an academy, to the planet.

Football was a vehicle for Brandon Jackson's contributions, a pathway for him to enrich the lives of others, but it is only that -- the carrier of the beauty, not the actual beauty itself. 

Football might matter again, but right now, it doesn't. If it doesn't in a week or even a month, hey -- this is grief. It runs its course for everyone in a different way, and if that grief requires more time to give way to a full return to work and aspiration, so be it.

It's worth dealing with an aspect of human subconscious thought -- not our intentional, purposeful thoughts, but those impish, inappropriate thoughts which we can't control.

"This was such a good season, and then a death gets in the way."

That's not a view I hold, and I'm sure it's not a view any of you hold, either.

That statement is a thought which has likely flown through our minds (it did mine) the way all sorts of horrible or inappropriate thoughts fly through all of our minds in any moment of hardship or stress or sadness. (Think of Mary Tyler Moore laughing in the Chuckles The Clown funeral episode, or any funeral when you've thought something absolutely horrible -- you didn't mean it, and you didn't think it consciously or intentionally in a spirit of personal dislike toward the dead person... but the thought came.)

The subconscious doesn't reflect our true identity -- certainly not inherently. A million thoughts (many of them inappropriate) flow through our brains every week. We can't consciously prevent a thought or image from arising in our minds. Moreover, any mental health professional will tell you that the precise moment you inwardly tell yourself, "Don't Think This Thought!" or "Don't Think About Item X," our brains will immediately gravitate to "This Thought" or "Item X." 

We cannot -- we don't -- wall off certain thoughts, successfully banning an image from our minds forever. We only control the thoughts by doing what we do: Working, loving, helping, studying, serving, supporting, building -- the things that soldiers, students, brothers, sons, parents, coaches, athletes, engineers, United States Military Academy community members do.

Will the games go on? Yes. Will Army coaches and players return to work? Yes. Will a bowl game and other goals contain meaning in the future? Yes.

The central point: They don't have to return to normal right now. Not even in a month. There is no time clock for grief. There can't be.

Feeling devastated is not something which can be turned off like a light, by a flicking of a switch. Some of us are more sensitive and vulnerable than others, and need more time to heal when we experience deep and searing loss.

The heart must give way to grief, and that process of grieving (and also celebrating what Brandon Jackson meant to every member of the West Point community) cannot -- must not -- be shortchanged or hurried.

Life waits for us -- for you, for me -- tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.

A great spiritual teacher has said: "We don't think ourselves into a new way of living; we live into a new way of thinking."

The life of the Army family is defined by grief (and tear-stained thanksgiving) for Brandon Jackson.

Life -- football -- will be there tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.

No cadet has to worry about football in the here and now. Remember Brandon Jackson. Remember him fully. Live in purity of purpose, purity of grief. Celebrate his life as fully as possible.

Life will be there when the grieving process has been carried out as reasonably and as fully as possible.

Then, football can begin to matter.

Rest in peace, Brandon Jackson.

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