My father is a man of few, but potent, words. A man strengthened by his integrity, generosity, and devotion to his children, he has worked doggedly every day of his life to provide me with the best he can. Yet no amount of travel, fashion, or fancy dining could have inspired me more than the Saturday he took me to a Michigan football game.
In the car ride to the stadium, my father explained that, because he had no sons, I must be one for him today. His words held no negative connotation, but seemed to convey genuine joy. I quickly consented, and my heart drummed louder and louder as the miles between the football stadium and me diminished.
As we parked our quad cab and commenced the long journey to the game, I could not help but steal glances at the man ahead of me. As one of four daughters, there were not many occasions when I had my father completely to myself. Because of this, I kept staring up at his face, studying it, trying to memorize all of its detail, savoring my good fortune to be his sole company for the day.
As we came up to a chaotic intersection, he grasped my hand. I will never forget that fleeting moment of safety. As we crossed the street and made our way toward the game, people poured from every direction — trickling out of cars and swarming over the grass — and we were swept along with them, two beings in the thick snarl of humanity.
The Big House rose up before us, its rough brick and iron gates both welcoming and awe-inspiring. Hallway after hallway, flight after flight of stairs, we wound through the stadium’s shadowy chambers. Hot dog vendors, pretzel stands, and fan gear with large, embroidered Block Ms all whirl together in my recollection. My father stopped short in the midst of it all.
My eyes snapped to his, and he hesitated, laying his right hand on my shoulder. We had reached the final flight of stairs. Through the shadows that enshrouded us, I made out the blazing light at the top step, beckoning me to ascend. My heart caught in my chest. A wave of emotion washed so quickly over my father’s face that I became alarmed.
“Dad? Dad, are you OK?” I thought maybe he was queasy — maybe there was something I could do. He did not immediately respond, but a slow smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.
“Let’s just stay here for a second, OK?” he said, almost in a whisper. I felt the floor beneath me vibrating with the steps of all the fans in the stadium. I was eager to rise to the top of the steps — to take in what I had been waiting for all day. It was then he spoke in a halting voice.
“Sarah.” How gently he pronounced my name, as though wrapping me in an embrace, but still calling me to attention. He struggled to find words. “Everything that lies before you is yours for the taking. This is more than I can ever give you, and I want to you have it. But you have to take it. Promise me you will take it.”
His voice choked with emotion as he spoke these last two words, his eyes staring hard into mine. For a moment, I knew nothing else. After the instant passed, I acknowledged his question, with no way of knowing where it would take me. I could not possibly discern the future he saw laid out for me. With his cautionary advice to hold tight to his hand, we ascended the final barrier to the sky.
I must pause here to let my panting, 8-year-old heart rest a spell. What I then saw, felt, heard, smelled, and devoured elevated my soul to such a height that it was suspended there a few days.
All at once, more than 100,000 fans burst into view. I drowned in the clamor of marching bands, the droning planes lugging their banners across the sky, the shrill scream of a referee’s whistle, the sight of painted fans, the savory smell of hotdogs, the dazzle of a lit scoreboard. I stared and stared until I no longer saw, until I could no longer discern what it was I could glimpse, and just kept gazing.
My father likes to tell people that I stood for a full five minutes, obstructing the view of the man behind me. I laughingly deny it, except that it is probably true. I was trying so hard to take it all in that I forgot myself. I did finally take my seat, but I have never been the same. There is still a piece of me lodged somewhere in that stadium.
Even though we will not physically gather this fall, it is important that we continue to gather in spirit by looking out for one another. If we continue to cultivate the Wolverine spirit, I am confident we will come back stronger than ever.
Sarah M. Sala, ’08, is the author of “Devil’s Lake” (Tolsun Books, 2020). The founding director of Office Hours Poetry Workshop, she teaches expository writing at New York University and lives in Manhattan.