The Mighty Miners

“We are the Miners, the mighty mighty Miners,

Everywhere we go, people what to know, 

Who we are, so we tell them…..We Are The Miners”

The lights begin to flash in the distance in front of me, the wooden guard arms are slowly lowering, signalling me to stop and wait for the passing of a train that I really don’t have time to wait for today. But I am stuck, surrounded by cars on both sides of me and behind, I have nowhere to retreat to, and I am happy about it. I have learned to love the train stops, the inconvenience  that causes others to curse, I have learned to care for them, because it is perhaps a sign that I should slow down myself and stop, think about things, take time and just breathe. The tracks have always been a part of my life, and sometimes on days like these when I don’t feel like I have much time for anything, it forces me to remember the childhood when all I had was time, the kind of time in a small town that just stands still and makes you wonder if the next day will ever come, or the next life. The train begins to pass and the blurring of the passing cars forms the perfect backdrop to the movie that now begins to play in my head, the one that involves the tracks and the team, and a town that will never leave me.

The song still plays in my head everytime I cross a railroad track, the song that will break the silence of a school bus of young boys that will soon cross over into a field of fighting men. The tracks were the mark, the halfway point of where you entered the bus and where you exited it. The tracks on any other day were just a set of iron rods, sitting in the ground, representing a past that no longer exists in the small town that once flourished from the coal mines that surrounded it. But tonight, Friday night, the tracks take on a different meaning, the one that signals to a busload of young boys trying to be big men, that it is time for the transformation. The tradition was there long before me, and I pray that it is still there today, because the tracks were the point of the journey, when it all became real, the preparation and the prayers, and the town was waiting for us, ready to support our efforts, regardless of the results.

I don’t know who started it all, all I know was that for my entire life in that small town of Hartshorne, I sang that song once I crossed the tracks, I mean we sang a song, the one that united us.  We dressed in the locker room at the school, we boarded the bus with helmets in hand, took our seats and sat there, in complete and utter silence. We dared not move, although the millions of butterflies that occupied the stomachs of all that were aboard would have been enough to fly the bus to the field rather than it being driven. The bus would leave the school and head north, everyone staring out the windows looking upon the town we had all grown up together in. Nothing we saw out there was new to us, but we really didn’t see the sights, we were too busy looking at the future. Sometimes small towns feel like the end of the Earth for a young man, but on nights like these, it feels like the only place on Earth, and we are the only inhabitants. Silence among teammates is unity, it is the small moment of unspoken prayer that takes place before the event, the event we had all trained for. Football is merely a game, but when you are young, and when you are with your friends, it becomes something more than that, it becomes a sacred display of love, in the form of sport. 

The bus will continue, turning right onto the main street for a block, then back north at the car wash. I laugh at the irony of it all, that the car wash is the final sight we see before the tracks, the representation of the washing away, the baptism. Perhaps it is fitting that a place that transforms vehicles is at the place that will transform boys. I didn’t see the significance then, but I marvel at the importance now. It is now at this point when you can see them, the lights, the North Star of the birthplace of the religion that is football, sitting in the distance, waiting for its travelers to arrive. What large amount of nerves you had getting onto the bus are now exploding into pure craziness inside you. The breathing will increase, the heart rate is almost immeasurable, and the battle to control yourself now is almost as strong as the battle you will incur on the field. The urge is strong, but the silence is still there, all you hear is the hum of the bus, the wind behind the windows, whistling a tune of happiness, to remind you that the world will still be here when you are done, it will wait for you to become a man on the field, and it will wait for you to return back to a boy hours later in the world of your dreams.

And then something magical happens, as the bus continues north, you arrive at the threshold, the starting line. The bus crosses the tracks, and then it begins, the transformation, the ritual, the moving of the pounding of the heart to the clapping of the hands. “Strap ’em on” someone will yell, and in unison, you hear a collective doning of helmets, snapping of straps, and then the clapping, oh the clapping, will begin.  Clap, clap, clap. clap. The beat starts slow, but heavy. The claps now are getting rapid, the butterflies that were once held captive in the stomach are now allowed to be released by the yelling of a bus that is now full of men, the boys and the worries left at the tracks. There is something calming about chaos, and maybe that is why this is happening, maybe this is why this thing happens, this transfer of power from the inside to the outside. But somewhere, near the front, above the clapping and the yelling, comes a song that starts with one person but soon spreads down the length of the bus at the speed of light. The song that calms me even to this day, even in the craziness of the world that doesn’t involve football, the song that brings me back to my tribe, that one that takes me home, no matter where in the world I am. 

“We are the Miners, the mighty mighty Miners,

Everywhere we go-o, people what to know-o, 

Who we are, so we tell them…..We Are The Miners”

The bus will enter the stadium and now the metamorphosis is complete, the man is no longer a boy, the team is no longer a group single souls. The bus is exited by many, but the field is taken by one solitary unit, that at this time, only cares about the totality of its cause. What happens on Friday nights in towns all across the country is what makes America us, the coming together of a community, the blending of color and class, of sport and art. There is no football without parents, there is no football without the band, there is no football without the cheerleaders or the fans. The game by itself is nothing without the community of people that surround it. Football has no memory of your past nor does it care where you come from, it is about one town, one team, one goal, one game at a time, and win or lose, we are all here together, to share in the glory or to comfort one another in the gloom. 

The team will look in the stands and find love, the crowd will look at the team and find cause.

I find myself sitting at the  crossing, waiting for the passing of the train, thinking about my song, our song. The train will soon pass, and for the next minute, all my problems will too. The flashing lights will stop, the arms will raise, and I will cross over the tracks. I will momentarily return to an age and a place that comforts my inner warrior, and I will start to clap, slowly then rapidly, and then I will chant my prayer of power, the one that reminds me of who I am and where I came from. The prayer that keeps me grounded in this life and allows me to always know I have family in a place that still allows me to come back and call it home, for I must always remember that…I am a Miner, a Mighty Mighty Miner, and no matter where I may go, I will always think of home…for I am a Miner, a Mighty Mighty Miner.