Bap, bap, bap...the sound of a basketball hitting pavement still gives me a strange sense of comfort. I am transported back to gymnasiums, the squeak of sneakers on the floor, the shriek of a ref’s whistle. Though my eyes never left my child, eventually I learned the 10 rules, and caught on to many of the endless sub-rules, say for dribbling. No traveling, double-dribbling and watch the clock – you have 5 seconds to pass.
All three of my sons played to some degree. Spencer, the oldest, quit high school and sports with it, but was instrumental in mentoring and encouraging his younger brother Miles through his high school career. Miles played into college. Jake, ten years younger and several inches taller, played into high school but stepped down so he could focus on God’s direction for his life. Many times, I could hear one of them approaching home as daylight faded. Bap…bap…bap. It’s a simple relationship between a boy and his ball.
So it made sense when the Yarmouth police chief introduced the idea of a memorial for Spencer at the Old Town House basketball courts. It was 2004, two years past his murder and all of the court proceedings had finally wrapped up. The Yarmouth police recognized Spencer as a hero, someone who gave his life for another, so plans were made.
I remember it was blustery cold, but the two courts were crowded that day. Police and firemen stood in uniform. Detectives, ex-thugs, my pastor, friends and family, church folks, the assistant DA and Sue O’Leary from the Victim Witness office all mingled together on a chilly fall day. We served cookies and hot cider and a group from church rapped a song Spencer wrote.
“This is a message to my heavenly Father
Who picked me up when I was helpless, broken – I needed shelter.”
As the leaves skittered across the courts and the trees tossed in the wind, God was there, moving among the people, finding just the right place in each heart to press upon. He was there to hold a broken mother, to point up and say “Look!” It was no ordinary celebration. When Jesus is in on it, all heaven will rejoice.
Bap…bap…bap. It’s July 1 2021. I’m sitting on one of the two stone benches that flank the stone memorial for Spencer. Miles and Jake are shooting around on the court, their wives and children are close by. Miles has announced that it is the 2021 Spencer Macleod Memorial Three Point Shoot Out. If you didn’t know, there were 13 of them, each year growing larger and expanding from a few guys passing the hat for the winner, to racks and refs and grand prizes, not to mention free raffle give-a-ways. Last year was a Covid casualty. This year was a combination of a tired director (my husband) and it landing on the edge of everything suddenly opening. Anyway, it wasn’t happening. Until now.
It’s one of those quirky things in a mom who’s lost a child. Like the shoebox my mom carried for fifty years with my brother’s soldier, Christmas stocking and First Place ribbon he won at a field day right before he died at age nine. I get it now. I carry my own “box,” real (yes, there is a box in the attic now almost 20 years later of Spencer’s things I can’t toss out) and imagined. I imagine he will be always remembered, always a hero, always the gentle young man who loved others the way Jesus does. Grace upon grace. But people grow up, move, change…even forget. Time has no mercy, but allows us memories, like souvenirs.
I don’t know whether my sons consciously realize it, this sometimes painful processing that I do, although less often now. The quirkiness. They are grown and changed too. Men that still love the game, even though they laugh at their waning endurance on the court. Men that still love their brother.
The ball hits the backboard and bounces into the hoop.
“You still have a great shot, Jake,” Miles says. And I know that still means a lot to his not so little brother.
“Okay,” Miles announces as he stands at the three-point line, “for the 2021 Spencer Macleod Three Point Shoot Out, whoever gets the next three-pointer wins.” As he is still speaking, he shoots, and the ball swishes through the basket. I’m pretty sure he did not expect it and we shout and cheer. The grandkids are climbing on the memorial stone and laughter fills the air. Time slows down long enough for me to pull this all in and hold the moment. Did you know that God was right there again? You may even wonder if Jesus likes basketball and I think it could be true. All I know is 2021 may go down as one of the best three-point shootouts ever. But what does a mom know? Except that her kids are the best.