What I Learned from Rob Gronkowski
Last weekend, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement. I had been hoping he wouldn’t retire. He is and has been my eight year-old son’s favorite football player for as long as I can remember. I’ve often helped my son get to sleep by recounting “good dreams” he could have at night— many of which involve meeting or playing football with “Gronk.” But I have been surprised to find myself emotional about his retirement, myself. And now I’m trying to figure out why.
If you’re not familiar with Rob Gronkowski let me explain a little bit about him. He is larger than life (he is 6’6” and weighs 268 pounds) and, off the field, normally has what can really only be described as a goofy grin on his face. Though he plays like a beast on the field, off the field he is known to be happy-go-lucky and kind of silly (video of him dancing shirtless and chugging beer at various locales is a dime a dozen on the internet). He brings this same spirit to post-game interviews, post-Super Bowl celebrations, and visits to local children’s hospitals.
He is the epitome of joy. And, even if I’m a nerd and not predisposed to like dudes who seem like meatheads (which Gronk surely does— I doubt he’d even take offense to that statement), I have such a soft spot in my heart for him that I’m grieving the idea that he won’t be on the Patriots anymore.
The Patriots team is known for its seriousness. Their coach, Bill Belichick, is famous for barely ever cracking a smile. But, despite this, Gronk brought his newborn puppy-like joy everywhere he went. And people all over the place (including a little boy I live with) love him for it. He is a child at heart (and though I’m not often one to quote the Bible, the book of Matthew quotes Jesus as saying that we should become like little children). Gronk seems to take that admonition to heart and seems more child-like than pretty much any other adult I can think of.
I just came across the lines of a Mary Oliver poem, “Poppies,” that also seems instructive on the subject of Rob Gronkowski and my sadness at seeing him go: “happiness . . . when it’s done right, is a kind of holiness, palpable and redemptive.” And that kind of happiness is hard not to feel drawn to. It’s hard not to delight in. And hard not to miss when it’s gone.