By BRIAN MARSH
there are many things worth catching in Missoula.
the endless ‘Fests’ are all fun and engaging community gatherings. yes, even the ‘Hemp Fest’.
the variety of live music, theatre, art exhibits (First Fridays and beyond), and films (especially the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival) is astounding, given the size of the city.
but if you live here or even spend any amount of time here, there’s one thing you cannot avoid catching…
and it’s highly contagious.
and incredibly FUN.
i’ve never lived in a community that is so passionately devoted to its local university’s sports teams.
Missoula practically closes down (and the population increases by about 1/3) on the days of Griz home football games, with most everyone either at Washington-Grizzly stadium or watching or listening at home or at work. ‘GO GRIZ!’ is plastered on most every storefront window, or flying on flags waving from cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, baby strollers, skateboards, wheelchairs, or tattooed on infants and seniors, adolescents, and antediluvians.
i traveled to Israel-Palestine once with a group that included someone who found a way to stream live action of Lady Griz basketball games so she wouldn’t miss a basket.
i’ve even been a part of a memorial service where one of the family friends stood up in the sanctuary and led the congregation in the ‘MONTANA….GRIZZLIES’ cheer, back and forth for about five minutes.
It IS a fever. and the only prescription or cure…is MORE GRIZ!
my family and i certainly caught the fever upon moving here. and thanks to the kindness and generosity of several friends, we’ve had the chance to catch at least one home football game and MANY home basketball games at UM each season.
to be honest, basketball is really my favourite game, and hence, the basketball games are the ones we get most excited about.
but there is something special about being at a home Griz football game.
and most times, we end up getting to immerse ourselves in the experience by sitting in the North End Zone.
with the ‘North End Zone Crazies’.
where people throw Twinkies and Ding Dongs to fellow fans whenever the Griz score. and throw the ball back onto the field when the opposing team kicks a field goal or extra point.
where cowbells aren’t rejected, but practically required.
where the cheering is so loud, i don’t think even Spinal Tap (‘The World’s Loudest Band’) could be heard above the din.
it’s the best place to catch a Griz game. and a stronger case of ‘Griz Fever’.
and it’s where my son, Ian, loves to sit more than anyplace else in the stadium.
now, you may wonder why a young man with autism, who is overly sensitive to large crowds and loud noises, would want to subject himself to the mayhem of the North End Zone.
well, there are four reasons:
1. The Cannon.
because of his overly acute sense of hearing, Ian usually wears earplugs to the games to block out as much of the ambient noise as possible. every time the Griz score, they blast this cannon to celebrate. so when the crowd noise gets higher, Ian does two things to anticipate the cannon. he plugs his ears. and he starts giggling.
why, you ask? keep reading.
2. The Crazies
3. The Cheers.
NOT the cheerleaders. for Ian, it’s ALL about Monte. (‘the grizzly bear that goes ‘ROOOOOAAAAAR!’ and whether he’s running into the goal posts or doing flips across the field, the antics of our beloved mascot are always a focal point of the game for my ‘man-cub’.
4. The CHEESE Pizza.
no game is complete for Ian without his little Pizza Hut cheese pizza and Sprite.
so, even after stating these ‘reasons’, the question remains…WHY does Ian love being a part of experiences such as these?
i’ve wondered about this for most of his life. and i’ve only just recently discovered maybe a hint of a clue.
so often, we (myself included) tend to view people with autism as being ‘disconnected’ from their surroundings, living most of their life in this mysterious ‘bubble’ that keeps them trapped in their own world within themselves, and blocks them off from most of the world around them. and we may learn that this is the case because their five senses are so highly attuned, the bubble is there in part to protect them from sensory overload, especially when they are in settings that may be unfamiliar or overwhelming.
in some ways, this is certainly the case with Ian. in the midst of a Griz game or other such highly stimulating events, he will enter into that bubble, partly as a means to soothe himself as his senses are going on tilt, and partly as a way to enjoy the experience in his own, personal way.
but there’s something else that happens when Ian is in a setting like this.
something that is very subtle and simple, and surprisingly sensational.
he connects not only with me, but also with others around him, introducing himself to those sitting around him and asking them their names.
he concentrates on the team program he gets every season, and studiously goes over each and every picture of each and every player so he can learn their names and numbers.
he celebrates not only when Monte does something crazy, or when the team scores and the cannon goes off, or when the time clock goes to ‘ZERO ZERO ZERO’ at the end of a quarter or half. but also when there is a hush of silence and anticipation BEFORE a big play. or when an airplane or a bird flies over the stadium. or when the sun appears, even momentarily through the clouds (or in the case of earlier this season, through the smoke).
he is NOT DIS-engaged from the experience at all.
he is HIGHLY engaged.
not only with his five natural, highly-attuned senses.
but in another way that is an even more astonishing expression of how acutely sensitized he is to the creation in which we all live.
a kind of ‘sixth sense’…
one that sees the average aspects of the world as amazingly alive…
one that perceives the ordinary things of life as extraordinary…
one that experiences the standard secular experiences of life as surprisingly sacred, the mundane as miraculous, the mayhem as magnificent.
and i realize that, contrary to popular opinion, Ian, my son who has autism, a condition that most of us (myself included) would love to one day see cured, actually lives his life more FULLY connected to creation and the Creator than anyone else i know.
because his senses are extremely engaged in each experience.
all SIX of them.
and as this realization sends shivers down my spine and enlivens my whole being, i recognize something else.
that this ‘sixth sense’ isn’t just unique to Ian.
it is part of me, too.
a part of ALL of us.
it’s what connects us to each other and each moment, to the creation and our Creator, to the truest wonder and joy planted within our truest selves.
it’s the incredible gift of wholeness, even ‘holiness’, which i discover and rediscover most often in the presence of my son as he lives his life so fully and freely.
the condition with which he lives has not been ‘cured’.
and yet, he is a vessel of happiness, hope, even healing.
by simply being himself, he embodies this precious, life-giving gift that is the most fantastic and fascinating fever you could ever catch.
the fever for which there is no need of a cure.
Ian and me enjoying the ‘fever’
i’m a wanderer and a wonderer. a pastor who isn’t sure he’d attend church if he wasn’t pastoring one (and currently, i’m not), living with my unique and special family (my wife, Kirsten, and sons, Ian and Trevor) in a unique and beautiful place (Missoula, Montana). restless and lazy, usually amazed, always in process, i’m continually surprised and usually delighted at discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary, the ‘sacred’ in the ‘secular’, the shafts of light that sneak into the shrouds of darkness. i drum decently, surf poorly, love multicultural food, music, and community, and living in the ‘Zoo.