In the dream I am driving Roman Emperor Constantine to the local high school on a Friday night. He is in the passenger side sitting stone-faced as I debrief him on the basic intent and rules of American football. He does not appear to care, giving his attention to leaning dramatically away from vehicles passing the opposite direction.
I ramble on, unsure whether or not Constantine understands English much less the procedures I’m describing.
“…And so we sometimes refer to football players as modern day gladiators. We still use many words from your time and language.”
I hand Constantine my Bob’s Subs and Sandwich Shop T-shirt and a pair of khaki dad-shorts. I try not to act surprised when he accepts them, but my jaw drops when he changes right there in the parking lot. We begin walking as Constantine breaks the silence.
“This is your stadium?”
Constantine is not impressed. I try to describe how there are perhaps hundreds of larger stadiums that hold five times as many people as his great Coliseum, and why there are thousands of small stadiums like this scattered throughout the land. I add why we no longer keep slaves for building and upkeep, except for the large stadiums where we still sort of do.
Constantine ducks, covers his head with his elbows when first hearing the announcers on the speaker system. He watches the game, and after a while seems to enjoy the battle cry of the drums and brass instruments.
“What nations battle here?” asks Constantine.
“Nations don’t battle in football. These teams are made up of young men between the ages of 16 and 19. They represent their towns and cities, but we’re all part of the same nation.”
“Do they battle to control the land?”
“Thank God, no.”
“I know it looks pretty serious. Everyone looks serious. But it’s just a game. The players on both teams are there on their own will. They all usually shake hands afterwards and return to his town and family at the end of the night.”
Constantine seemed puzzled.
“Then why don’t they quit football and instead wager over dice or backgammon?”
“Yea, I see your point. But everyday life is a lot less physical these days. Most of us don’t battle or work the land or anything like that, so we battle for sport. But everyone gets caught up in it because it is entertaining to watch and there’s a lot at stake.”
Constantine asked a question about teams and roles of the “soldiers.”
“The loyalties are confusing. In most sports these days, the athletes and fans clash violently against each other as hated enemies. Then in the next year, or sometimes the next weekend, the athletes play on the same team. Sometimes it ends up being more about individual achievement”
“They have no loyalties or unified cause?”
“Well not really. School districts are a state entity and therefore very seldom have meaningful core convictions. People are free to believe and practice what they want, and there’s no state religion.. Since your time we have found out that this cheapens the religion and sooner than later turns into an ugly mess. All this freedom is great, but it comes at a cost. We have to put up with a lot of stupid ideas, but they always seem to contain a few good ideas.
Constantine shook his and said, “Just because a belief is equally protected does not mean it is equally valid.” I told him that I though my former pastor invented that, but apparently not.
Constantine went on. “With various core beliefs possibly represented within each team, how do you expect any team to function optimally?”
“Well, yeah. Exactly. Many of the athletes around here claim some sort of Christianity, but definitely not all of them.”
“So the Christians have a team and get along well with each other but not others.”
“Well, not really. Our faith has many factions but we call them denominations. I’ve witnessed that even the softball games between denominations sometimes get…rough.”
“I know. Sometimes it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
After a few moments of silence, Constantine asked, “Do your absolute best gladiators,…er, football players have unified beliefs and vision?
“Rarely. But in a sense many of them that last for more than a few years playing professionally do to an extent.”
At the end of halfime, the home school played the classic song Sweet Caroline over the loudspeakers.
Constantine listened closely and observed that the parents, players, coaches and students on both teams were singing this song! “Why do they all pay homage to the Queen at this point?”
“We don’t have a queen. But you did find a rare thing that everyone seems to agree on! And every Caroline that I have met is indeed sweet.”
Constantine chuckled. He was beginning to fade. Our time was drawing to a close.
“Well maybe you should get a king or queen that you all believe in.”
“Yeah, well… … …”
Constantine cut me off.
You think us Romans were crazy, but YOU guys are the crazy ones. It appears that you cannot agree on what you’re for or against, you get triggered instead of seeking common ground among your diverse people.
Constantine faded as I replied.
“Maybe singing Sweet Caroline together on a Friday night is as good as it gets. Let’s hope not. In the very least, we can say it’s an ideal, a good place to start. I’m sure that you cannot beat John Denver playing in the September dusk.”