New York City has a way of reminding you of the vast immensity of this world.
I had never been to New York City, not until this week for Super Bowl XLVIII festivities. The closest I’d been before this week was a connecting flight at La Guardia this past fall, but the man giving me an aerial tour in the seat behind me could tell my brain got lost somewhere in the Hudson River below. For an Indiana kid who grew up with a cornfield in his back yard, NYC was a lot to handle.
Before then, my perception of NYC existed in musical productions: taking down Pulitzer and Hearst in Newsies; Daddy Warbucks singing “NYC” in Annie; that snapping-finger gang in West Side Story, a scene that would forever make me believe I was tough enough to be in a gang.
But NYC always seemed to be just that—a fantasy, something I saw through a plane window, on a television screen, or imagined while belting “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” in the shower…you know, like normal guys do.
On Monday, however, I stepped outside the bus station on 32nd street (I think) and was hit in the face with a crippling arctic wind. I looked left, looked right, pulled out the map on my iPhone, looked left again, looked right again, heard the honks of the taxi cabs and havoc of city traffic, and stood wide-eyed as New Yorkers bumped by me with their coffees and briefcases on their way to work. I could finally somewhat tangibly comprehend the magnitude of this city I had always fantasized about.
We tried to find Times Square to pick up our Super Bowl credentials but ended up in an alley. We wondered if Times Square was a hoax, then decided we were just ignorant. Eventually, we found it, and the buildings pierced into the sky as an array of moving advertisements made my distracted eyes rattle in their cages.
I couldn’t help but think about how big New York City was, and how small I felt. I like moments like these—times when you realize how small you are. Because I think a life without transcendence only leads to misery. The most stressed and anxious people I know are those who believe it’s all up to them, who are consumed in their to-do lists and solving every problem that comes their way. And I confess, much of the time, I live like this. And maybe depression thrives from this, in the lie it’s all up to us, in the lie we are bigger than we actually are. If there is nothing that transcends, then on whom do we depend on? Ourselves.
This transcendence, I think, takes place on all levels—in the depths of who we are, and in crafts we perfect. When we attended Super Bowl Media Day at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Tuesday, it was apparent many of the Seattle Seahawks believed that sports were merely an avenue for something else to transcend. In one of my favorite interviews from that day, Seahawks defensive passing game coordinator Rocky Seto said the following:
“Ultimately, we like to use this platform of the Super Bowl to tell people that Jesus is the greatest treasure that you could ever hope to have…and He’s free! He’s free. Everyone would like to be on a Super Bowl team, but that lasts for a moment, and it’s over. I can’t remember who won a Super Bowl three years ago. I’d have to think really hard. But Jesus never changes.”
For many guys on the Seahawks, like quarterback Russell Wilson, left tackle Russell Okung, safety Chris Maragos, and long snapper Clint Gresham, this was the theme to not only their profession but also their entire being: transcendence. Sure, they want to win the Super Bowl—more than anything. But if this is where the world begins and ends, on the field at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, then it’s an awfully small world. There’s a freedom in feeling small in a big world, but bondage in feeling big in a small world. This is counter-cultural, but it is true.
As the week unfolded, this theme continued. We left New York City on Wednesday and stayed with one of my best friends in Philadelphia that evening. That night, we attended an event through “The Veritas Forum” at the University of Pennsylvania’s Irvine Auditorium, a building I can only describe as transcending itself, its very gothic architecture capturing your soul and stretching it into the spiritual, with its 11,000-pipe organ and a ceiling so high it’d have to be cleaned by an eagle with a can of Pledge.
One of the professors on the three-person panel was a concert pianist named Mia Chung. She has performed in concert halls around the world and has been widely praised throughout the media, including The New York Times. If that’s not impressive enough for you, she graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, received a master’s degree from Yale, and obtained a doctorate from Julliard.
Chung talked about how music has the ability to extend deeper than sound. It’s an opportunity for her, being created in the image of God, to relate to the Creator in her own creation of music. She hopes her music is a mere reflection, a droplet of heaven perhaps, that gives the listener a taste of something supernatural we all foundationally long for.
Isn’t this what music is? Isn’t this what sports are? They are a mere reflection of something transcending, propelling us into the mystery of wonder, whether it’s hope or joy or pain, a city whispering to its people to experience its magnitude.
And in this whisper, I find a call for my life to reflect the same.
This column appeared in the February 2014 Sports Spectrum DigiMag. Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.