When it gets right down to it, we never know.

His son sat on the bench near the 30-yard line and gazed out into the surprisingly cold Georgia night. Across the field the other team celebrated. A National Championship, in overtime, over the #3 ranked team in the country. Their fans cheered and whistled. “We’re number one!” floated over the turf. On his sideline his team gathered to his right, consoling, and congratulating; some slowly filtering toward the locker room. He had been here before. Not in Georgia, mind you, and not at this actual stadium of course, but here, in this place.

Years ago he had sat on a similar bench with a teammate and watched the sun set on a Florida afternoon after a loss. They were only 14 then but then, unlike now, they knew the end had occurred. Peewee football was over. He and his teammate would move onto high school and more serious football. There would be long days in the weight room, grueling practices in the August heat and the culmination of a State Championship in their senior season. But that day, in Florida, they would sit quietly while the rest of the team packed up and headed to the locker room, much like this night; headed onto the next football thing.

His father knew the pain of loss and the finality of defeat at the end of the season. He had limped off the field after a thrashing in the state playoffs his last year of high school. He had showered in silence, alone among his teammates, and he had known it was the end. He also knew how the end of something felt, that last long shower after district track his senior year; knowing that he was leaving the locker room as an athlete for the last time. It had an eerie feeling to it as if the moment begged to be marked in some way if nothing else to remember where it all stopped. He crawled through the bleacher railing, made it around the fence and sat next to his son.

They looked at each other and smiled that knowing smile of two athletes, one well past his time and another in what should be his prime. No words were spoken. He patted his son on the thigh and they sat and stared out into the Georgia sky.

Eventually the rest of the family would come down to the field. Hugs would be exchanged, consolation given, pictures would be taken and the moment would be captured for the next family Christmas card. In the ensuing weeks awards would come to the standouts on the team, and there were many. They had completed an epic season and their many accomplishments would be lauded in the media and at the year-end banquet. True to post-game form, film would be studied and evaluations made of the returning players and his son would see and know. This was the end.

15 seasons of football, the final five being the toughest, plus four knee surgeries equaled what he would describe as “a shell of his former self.” Watching the tape of his play would show vividly where he stood. He didn’t like what he saw. Though the mind and the spirit were more than willing, the body was done. Although the coach tried vehemently to sway his decision the die was cast. Football was over. Like a sunset in Florida or the chill of a Georgia night, he had come to the end. Moving on to the next thing, whatever that might be, would now have to be his focus.

Maybe the father knew this intuitively that night in Georgie; maybe he didn’t. Maybe the son had an inkling this was the end of something; maybe he didn’t. The fact is that sometimes the markers are clear and sometimes they’re not. We’re taking that last shower at the high school knowing it’s over and we’re walking away. Or we’re sitting on the sideline somehow knowing we should drink in this moment. Whether it’s by our own choice or out of necessity, whether we decide not to pursue college athletics or realize our body just won’t tolerate it any longer or whether fate steps in and decides; no one knows. I think the bible says something about not knowing the day or the hour and like always, it’s right. The end comes and our charge is now simple to figure out where we go from here.

Well, that’s a wrap on this type of post kiddies; I’m all out of t-shirts. Unless one shows up from somewhere unannounced or I get some sort of brainstorm this is it. I think a discussion about the end of things is a good way to turn the page, don’t you? As always, please share this around if you know someone that’s facing the end of something. It could be something they love or something that’s just going away. Whatever the circumstance is we all have to face it.

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