This is an opinion column.
It was hot last week – News flash – and bleachers erected over sloss furnaces couldn’t stop all who gathered to watch Swedish phenom Miranda Tibbling do things on the parkour course that few in the crowd witnessed.
It was tight. And but space is a commodity. A couple and their kids – young teenagers, I’d say – had prime seating, because they arrived a few hours early and made it out. The boys sat idly waiting for the contest to begin until they allowed their father to wander off in search of shaved ice or some such coolant. That’s when the mother also left.
Baba was left alone, saving space for his family.
Then there was a move to the left under the stands. It was a commotion, and suddenly people started pointing at the man and calling him to hurry up.
His wife had collapsed from the heat and was being treated by UAB doctors, as were hundreds of others. The man got up to leave, but looked around frantically. His children were gone and would look for him when they returned. He struggled to get through the crowd to his wife.
I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry
This is the moment etched in my brain this Birmingham World Games week. This and what will happen in the next hour.
I wonder when people ask if it’s all worth it. Was it worth it for Birmingham to bid $75 million (it’s apparently closer to $65 million, we’re told) for a sporting event few people had ever heard of? Was it right for Birmingham to commit $3.5 million of its own taxpayer money to celebrate break dancing and billiards and bowling to honor the athletic prowess of corfballers and competitive lifeguards?
There is a lot of money. This is Jefferson County contributed and private organizations raised and served surrounding municipalities. I don’t discount it. The city of Birmingham budgeted nearly $3 million in police and fire overtime this year, an amount comparable to annual contributions to schools.
The city also made some much-needed improvements to Legion Field and Boutwell Auditorium. Sometimes you have to buy new towels when you have company, I guess. But at least you can keep it.
Economic development models tell us how meaningful the Games are to the region, with an economic impact of $256 million. I’m skeptical. You can get reliable numbers by throwing chicken bones.
But I don’t care. I don’t need it.
It was enough to see #Birmingham trend on Twitter on Thursday, something other than Alabama-foolery. People from 80 countries got a glimpse of Birmingham in live, welcoming colour.
It was enough to see Alabamians cheering for the mighty Swiss as they dominated the tug-of-war at UAB’s track and field complex, and to hear them cheer loudly for an undermatched Italian team. It was enough to see Great Britain’s Anthony Peck, a 71-year-old tug-of-warrior, win a silver medal, which was good for my aging self.
Seeing the fans and teammates of those players smile in the Alabama crowd, under the blue Alabama sky, was enough to see what wonder this place could bring them.
And that brings me to the Parker show at Sloss Furnaces on Sunday afternoon, to that family and that audience, which will become more than that.
As the doctor helped her recover from the effects of the heat, the father, the man, slowly descended to meet his wife. He asked the people around him to tell his children the news when he returned, asking them to take their seats.
A young man notices that his father left his phone in the crowd and runs to get it. Others saved the family’s seats, which was no small feat. Strangers guard the family’s territory as if it were their own.
The children soon arrived, and took their places. Their father returned a moment later, tense and shaken but with a sigh of relief. He brought his wife home and she was resting, he told many. He went to the people nearby and thanked them for their kindness. To one, they said they didn’t do much.
Then the gentleman sat with his children and watched the end of the parkour event that he had arrived hours early to see.
It was nothing, really.
And that was everything.
The moment was a reminder that not only does kindness exist, it’s still common. Even in a world that often seems to be at war with itself.
It made me look long and hard at those around me. It showed something that this city and this state and this world really needed:
A young woman with a rainbow tattoo waves with an older man in an American flag hat. They smiled, and for a moment they became one.
The group, as diverse as all the colors of her ink, gave a standing ovation to a sport most didn’t understand, despite the hot sun and long waits and the tickets not being cheap.
People cheer for their city or their state or for the simple joy of a game. And for the privilege of opening their arms to the world.
Is it worth it?
Hell yes. If only for hope.
John Archibald is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist AL.com.
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