This time last year, I watched the Super Bowl in the home of a chap I have got to know well since arriving in D.C. On the recommendation of a mutual friend he had kindly met me for a drink in my first few weeks, and has since become a good and kind friend.
He introduced me to his friends, and they all went out of their way to help me adjust to a new life outside my comfort zone, away from my friends and family. They took me to their favourite bars, invited me to parties, and infected me with a love for this wonderful city. They commiserated when I whined about my new job, laughed as I stood, slack-jawed, as yet another beige-trousered, blazer-clad arse trotted into view, and patiently indulged my fascination in American politics. They made me feel more welcome than a cold beer on a hot day.
My new friend introduced me to his family, and I became friendly with his siblings, mother and step-father. And so it was that last year I joined the family as they cheered on the Steelers, their home-town team. It was my first introduction to the Super Bowl. My friend’s mum, draped in her Steelers scarf, shouted loudest at the television. People chatted in the kitchen, children ran up and down the stairs, and the warm, fuzzy buzz of a much-loved occasion threaded itself throughout the house.
I tried and failed to understand the game; to me it’s not even a game, it’s an equation. I laughed at the pre-match build-up that had included footage of American heroes, football players and military types, reading passages from the Declaration of Independence. The family laughed back at me as I questioned the historical links between the Declaration and sport (it would be like Motty reading out passages of the Magna Carta before the FA Cup Final). I soaked up the atmosphere, along with a decent amount of wine, and enjoyed being part of a traditional family event, smiling as I watched my friend’s mum became completely absorbed in the game.
Two days ago, we said an emotional farewell to my friend’s mum. She had battled cancer for the past six years with courage and dignity. She was 64.
Spirited and intelligent, she was one of those women who become more beautiful as the years pass. Her love of life and her passion for her family had sparkled around her like sunshine on a cobweb. The many eulogies at her memorial service paid tribute to a woman who saw the good in everyone and cared about them as she did her own children, so much so that she had become a surrogate mother to many; she was the matriarch of an extended family that stretched well beyond the bounds of blood ties. She once called herself my ‘DC mom’, and I found it extraordinary that someone fighting for her life could be so giving of her time and her kindness.
This, to me, illustrates the best of the American way of life, a true adherence to ‘deeds, not creeds’. To envelop a stranger into the arms of a family and make that stranger feel part of a clan is a generous gift. It is a welcome reminder of the goodness in people.
Later today I shall watch the Super Bowl, and raise a glass to my DC mom.