Happiness by Andy Shenk
March 17, 2012, 7:08 pm
Filed under: Sports | Tags: , , , , , ,

Northfield is a small city in southern Minnesota. Two colleges call it home, Carleton and St. Olaf, causing the town to ebb and flow with the tide of the academic calendar. Students, after all, make up a quarter of the local population.

Northfield’s downtown provokes an unfailing response from its first-time visitors. “How nice…how pretty!” They ooh and aah over the historic, tastefully renovated buildings, the quaint clothing shops and cozy eateries. Several bridges, spanning the Cannon River, weave the shops and restaurants together. The city’s charm is especially striking on a cool spring night, when the riverfront lights cast their warm glow over the water below and illuminate the outlines of the buildings and trees clustered nearby.

I leaned over the 4th St. bridge railing for the first time six years ago, looking down at the Cannon rushing by on its way to the Mississippi River, forty miles away in Red Wing. My head cleared from the chaos inside The Grand I’d just left. Four years in this town awaited me as a student at Carleton. The noise, clamor, sickly stench of beer from the Clash of the Bands concert in The Grand were fading, but the knot in my stomach tightened even further as I thought about September and my move to Northfield. I prayed, hoping God would resolve the anxiety and the fear that made me feel worthless and unloved.

Nothing in my life had prepared me for the dancing in The Grand, the small talk between total strangers, many half-drunk, and the innuendo of sex and fun. Outside, on the bridge, I felt comfortable. But, I was still alone. I didn’t know how I would survive the years ahead. I hoped that I would become happy, yet I didn’t know if the story would end that way. Most of all, I didn’t know how sad it was that I didn’t even like myself. Fear for the future consumed my present. I wanted to be happy, which meant that I was always unhappy.

Six years later I drove home to our apartment in Northfield from the Applebee’s in nearby Dundas with my wife Nikki. I’ve never felt so drunk. Our basketball team, the Xavier Musketeers, had just knocked off Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers had defied the cynics and I was elated. When we got home Nikki and I danced around the kitchen, laughing over and over again, “They did it! They did it! They did it!”

A team hated on by the national media for an early-season fight, bailed on by many of their fans, and weighted down by tough loss after tough loss, was roaring back in the last two weeks of the season. They’ll play 15 seed Lehigh University on Sunday night and attempt to earn their fourth trip to the Sweet 16 in five years. The glazed look from Tu Holloway’s face is gone, replaced by grim confidence. The team’s shattered morale is now sky-high and they relish the competition each new game brings. Best of all, they love their game because they aren’t playing for anyone but themselves. There is no one else left to please – all of the hype and popularity blew away long ago. This is how it should be: a team seeking only to fight for one another. One for all and all for one. These Musketeers are happy playing basketball.

Xavier University Musketeers vs. Lehigh University Mountain Hawks. 3rd Round NCAA Tournament.

Sunday, March 18, 2012. 7:45 PM ET. Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC.


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