We had people over for the Super Bowl last weekend. After the game, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft gave Tom Brady the Vince Lombardi trophy. And he was crying, and everyone on the TV went on and on about how the game was so exciting; how groundbreaking, how monumental. But I’m standing there thinking, really? He won a GAME. All this hoopla about how amazing Tom Brady is, and that this is the crowning moment for him, is because of winning games. Games. I love football, and yes, this is awesome. We had a Patriots themed party for goodness sakes, with Patriots plates and napkins and cups and banners. But really? I had this persistently surreal moment and all I could keep thinking is: It’s a game. It’s not real life.
Certainly this perspective comes from my day-to-day work supporting survivors of child trafficking. Real life is when a youth who hasn’t opened up to you about her exploitation in the several months that you’ve been working with her finally tells you exactly what happened on the day she got trafficked. She finally lets you in. She tells you why she is so motivated to do well where she is, and why she never wants to go back to her old lifestyle. Her story, her sharing that story — that’s real life. And that’s worth celebrating. It’s so worth celebrating that it was all I could think about as I watched confetti fall across my television screen.
As I was telling my friend about this epiphany I was having, she was probably thinking that maybe I had lost my mind. But even now, as I sit here days later (totally stoked that the Pats won the Super Bowl), I can still say that being a part of watching a youth find her way in the world, hearing her tell her story, and seeing her navigate what that story means to her, was the real celebration for me last week. It so overshadowed seeing someone get game-winning touchdowns. It was profound on a very different level, and took over that moment of celebration for me.
I’m not putting myself or my job above the GOAT’s (Greatest Of All Time, aka Tom freakin’ Brady). But for me, seeing a life changed is just so much more than seeing a game won.
Victories like the one last Sunday made me think about heroes. And in my opinion, no one compares to the survivors I work with. They are the biggest heroes I know. They’ve been through some terrible circumstances, like losing family members to drugs, having to live with an adoptive family because they are “too much work”, and ending up in various other crazy, difficult settings. And yet they persevere. They find hope and a future, and are willing to let us support them on that journey. That’s heroic to me.
The author’s name has been withheld for protection.