Thou didst mold me, Dear Old State

Just so you know, I made Applesauce Jumble cookies and another round of Beef & Broccoli with Angie on Saturday.  But … Saturday was before.  And even though the recipe card is propped up in front of my computer, every time I sit down, I feel compelled to talk about something else ~ something more important than Applesauce Jumbles(*they are rather delicious though*).  I promise to share soon.  On Monday, the man and I experimented with jerky recipes, and started a few batches of antelope jerky that are currently marinating in our fridge.  I also put together one of the best pasta dishes I’ve had in awhile (courtesy of Trader Joe’s Butternut Squash Triangolini and roasted Butternut Squash).  So please don’t think my preoccupation with Penn State is because I haven’t been cooking.

It’s more because my whole life, I loved something ~ and in the past few days, that love and blind belief are being questioned in ways that I find both heartbreaking, and utterly uncomfortable.

On Tuesday, as ridiculous as it sounds, I spent the afternoon (following the NY Times report of JoePa’s imminent retirement) on the verge of tears.  I obsessively scoured the web, Facebook and Twitter for as much information as possible.  I spent far too much time on the phone with a fellow Penn Stater lamenting how a school we bled blue & white for could betray us so utterly. And when the day finally ended, and I emerged into the unseasonably warm November air, and everyone bustled by me on their way home from work, and the traffic buzzed, and the lights twinkled, I gave into tears.  The man was waiting for me, and he pulled me against him with one arm, kissing my forehead.

“I’m sorry, Angel,” He said into my hair.  I sniffled in response, and looked up at him with teary, glassy eyes.  We began our walk to the car, and while he talked about work, I found my mind circling back to Joe Pa, to Penn State ~ to what it all meant to me, and why I was finding it all so difficult to cope.

The man didn’t go to Penn State, and while I am sure he has deep love and loyalty to his school, I know that trying to explain to anyone other than a Penn Stater the depth of my devastation was next to impossible.  So when he said to me, “Babe, this doesn’t change Penn State.  It doesn’t change what it means to you, or what it’s been to you,” my first thought was that he really.didn’t.get.it. I didn’t respond.

We drove home, intermittently talking about the scandal, what we were going to make for WeHangsDay dinner, his work, my work, and tailgating for the Nebraska game on Saturday.  Despite being tired (you know the kind of tired I mean … the, I feel like I’m totally emotionally drained and cannot think of anything other than sleep right now kind of tired) we shlepped over to the gym, where I suffered through an abs circuit and three miles at a 10-min-mile pace.  I’m pretty sure I checked the counter every 15 seconds, hoping that I would miraculously cover three miles in about ten minutes.  So not the case.

The running helped, though.  The tension that had taken up intense residence between my shoulder blades, up through my neck and across my skull had eased.  My brain had finally, after fighting tooth and nail to remain in denial, wrapped itself around the sad, true facts of the case.  And I realized, as I emerged freshly scrubbed and cleaned and clad in uber comfy PSU sweats, that maybe the man understood it better than I gave him credit for.

We. Are Penn State.  All of us ~ students, alumni, family members, the community of State College.  We are all Penn State.  And while horrible things occurred outside of the public’s knowledge, and those things are heinous and completely unforgivable, the institution of Penn State is what I believe in, and that institution -although it’s hard to see it most of the time- is more than Joe Paterno.

Yesterday, I sat on the floor of my living room, and silently listened as the Board of Trustees announced that effective immediately, Graham Spanier would no longer be President of the University, and Joe Paterno would no longer serve as Head Football Coach.  Never, not once in my life, have I ever fathomed that the end would be like this.  I knew it wouldn’t end well (as we all know, things usually don’t)~ but this is so far beyond anything anyone could imagine.  The Board of Trustees did the only thing they could to help restore faith in what the University has always claimed to be.  We may not like it, but we have to accept it.

My life has been defined by Penn State.  My parents met there.  As we moved intermittently throughout my youth, Penn State and football games remained a constant.  Every fall, in sun, rain, sleet, wind or snow, we drove to Penn State to cheer on our team.  The uniforms remained unified~ without names across the back; the helmets simple ~ no stickers documenting achievement. All players equal, all players united, all players proudly wearing blue and white.  Our coach remained constant and stoic ~ perpetuating an athletic legacy while financing the advancement of education at a University I will always believe he believed in.  When I applied to college for fall ’98 matriculation, I knew exactly where I wanted to go.  And I did; Penn State was home to me for six years ~ longer than I had lived anywhere prior to that.  While I was there, I learned that Penn State is so much more than just football.  I hope, in the following months, others begin to see that, too.

As I contemplate this, and addictively check all news outlets for any shred of new information, my heart remains heavy, but I know that Penn State will recover.  Penn State held us to higher standards; Joe Paterno held us to higher standards.  It’s only fair that he be held to the same higher standards he set for all of us.  I’d like to believe that he knows this, and wouldn’t have it any other way.