We left off last week noting that grief cannot be boxed in or limited to 48 hours.
It's naturally ideal if we, as human beings, can compartmentalize grief and -- in the times when we're supposed to do our jobs -- bring a clear-eyed focus to our work.
That's the ideal scenario, however -- life is full of complications. It's full of plot twists. It's full of hardships. Death is the greatest in all three of those categories.
it's difficult enough for anyone to deal with death. The enormity of loss can hit hard at any time. How much more difficult it is for a bunch of 18-to-22-year-olds to absorb the loss of Brandon Jackson -- teammate, brother, fellow cadet, friend.
The United States Military Academy is an educational institution. It is a military institution. It is a place of training, teaching, development, a place where leadership and toughness are cultivated. Young men are taught what it means to be a soldier, a servant, a leader, a member of a community, responsible for self and others. Many good and nourishing lessons come from the experience of going to classes off the field and practice on the field (the field of the gridiron and the field of the military training ground, whatever setting might be involved).
Yet, death is the sort of thing for which there is no textbook, no syllabus, no curriculum. There is no "Owner's Manual" or "Company Handbook" for it. There isn't a subsection on page 10, Section 3, Chapter 1, Line A, on how to deal with death at 20 years of age, as a football player, while attending a service academy. Death -- and the loss and grief that come with it -- and powerful, personal and particular.
If an Army football player walked onto the turf at the Sun Bowl stadium this past Saturday against the University of Texas at El Paso and didn't feel much like playing a game in the wake of Brandon Jackson's death, who am I to say that's not acceptable? Who could suggest that thinking about things other than football would be inappropriate?
Grief cannot be contained by a time clock -- one can hope for the best possible response to a shattering event, but one certainly shouldn't EXPECT it, and one accordingly shouldn't view an immersion in grief as a fault or a defect of character.
The Army football team needed space, and so, when the first quarter of Saturday's game ended with a 3-0 score, it was easy to think that the Black Knights were going to play this game in the fog of distraction, thinking about their fallen teammate and brother more than the opponent at hand...
... and it would have been perfectly okay for that to be the case.
Then, as the second quarter started and Army scored a touchdown to go up 10-0 over the Miners, it was as though the passage from grief began.
It's not as though Army left grief behind or ceased to grieve, but the Black Knights carefully compartmentalized -- the way we all must in a world where life goes on -- and set that grief to the side, waiting to return to it later. Army achieved the ability to live in the present moment, to treat each snap, each block, each read, each tackle, with great precision.
Army achieved that basic breakthrough, and once it did, what had been distraction turned into domination... and a rare afternoon no 2016 West Point football player will ever forget.
It is natural and typical for a blowout to bring about laughter and revelry, a giddy sort of glee which washes away the other cares and troubles of the world.
In this case, out in the West Texas town of El Paso, a blowout acquired different dimensions and feelings.
With each touchdown Army scored -- three in the second quarter, four in the third, two more in the fourth -- the Black Knights weren't cackling or goofing around. They were adding one statement after another, but the statement was the same with each touchdown:
"This is for you, Brandon."
Army didn't ignore its grief or cease to grieve; no, the Black Knights transformed their grief and turned it into the powerful fuel of inspiration. As soon as that 10-0 touchdown was registered early in the second quarter, it was as though the feeling of doing something well gave the Black Knights, up and down the (long gray) line, permission to play football again. It became, in a profound sense, okay to attack this sport with full vigor and energy, and not feel that Brandon Jackson was somehow being forgotten.
A bunch of young men realized they could play football on this highly emotional and unusual day -- a day unlike any other in their lives -- and still hold Brandon Jackson very close to their hearts.
Had Army spent the whole day in El Paso grieving, it would have been fine.
How impressive it is that these young men, punched in the gut just a week earlier, were able to demonstrate such magnificent passion and purity of purpose on the gridiron.
It's a testament to them, and it's a testament to the leadership provided by Jeff Monken.
The grieving process isn't over... but Army could not have developed that process in a more positive or healing way on Saturday.
Route 66 against UTEP is a path to healing.null