The World Cup is happening right now, in Brazil. If you have no idea what that is, take a minute to educate yourself  if you want, before you go on.

 

Because my sons have adopted soccer as their game, I have adopted it as mine. For the past four years I have soaked in it. Every level of it. From sidelines I have watched eight six year olds gathered within a few feet of one ball, right legs like metronomes, as if a quarter had been placed in some unseen slot in each boy, a dust shrouded herd wandering between goals and painted lines. On my television I have watched FC Barcelona play a game set to music, choreography in the moment, full contact dancing with a ball. And I’ve seen everything in between.

 

All of that to say that this is the first World Cup for which I am truly, DVR-setting excited. I finally get it.

 

Over the course of the next month, you will hear much about the culture of Brazil. You will see a statue of Jesus Christ hundreds of times. You will hear of protestors clashing with police. You will hear guitar strings plucked the same way a guitarist from Amsterdam or Brisbane or Paducah would pluck them, but the sound will be more languid, seductive, for reasons you can’t name. You will see women curved like rivers, wearing smiles and face paint and very little else. You will see a city sunbathing by a turquoise sea, rock monoliths standing watch in the distance. And you will see soccer. Football. Futbol. The beautiful game. It is a spectacle so grand and broad that entertainment can be found even by those who do not appreciate the game at the center of it all.

 

But if I could sit down in a corner booth for a cup of coffee with America, it would be neither the protests nor the music nor the women nor the natural beauty nor even the game that I would discuss.

 

I would ask instead, how many evenings you believe you’ve spent doing the exact same thing as a 12 year old Ghanaian girl? Granted, that child’s circumstances may be wildly different than yours, but for about two hours on Monday evening (if you watched, and if you didn’t you should have) you and that Ghanaian girl watched a soccer match together, six thousand miles apart. When you were cheering, her face was in her hands. When your stomach fell, she was leaping in celebration. A small but vocal group at the Café Imperio in Lisbon will be with you to watch a desperate Portugal try to save their world cup against our boys on Sunday. And when you fall back into your sofa next Thursday to catch our match with Germany, you’ll join a few thousand Germans on their sofas in a soccer stadium in Berlin.

 

I believe we live in a deeply fractured world, a world that too richly rewards extreme opinions and divisiveness. Somewhere along the way we became a planet of differences. So today, as you scroll through the headlines of jihad and pro-life / pro-choice and people picketing funerals holding Bibles and votes on who can and can’t get married, I want you to stop for one moment and think about that girl in Ghana. Can you see her? She’s pretty and thin, with a sunrise smile and red and yellow and green stripes of paint across her cheeks. Her television screen is convex and it flickers and she doesn’t care. She’s just as glued to it as you are your flat screen with a 240Hz motion rate. Her heart is pounding just like yours. A new friend you’ll never meet, and it didn’t take a terrorist attack or tsunami or any other global tragedy to bring you together. All it took was a ball.

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