By Fr. Nick Kotsis - Many of you know that I grew up at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Sterling Heights. Fr. Nicholas Kyritses was the first, and still only, priest the parish has ever known. And in throughout the 1980’s, soccer was sport to play.
St. John was able to field about six teams every season and we all loved it. We played a lot of other churches in the Michigan Youth Soccer League (as it was called at the time) but there were other municipalities in the eastern suburbs of Detroit that also were involved in this league. We faced off against the Ukrainians, Holy Innocents Roman Catholic Church (our arch-rivals), Chesterfield Township, and all sorts of teams. It was quite competitive; and if the team did very well one season, the next season it was put into a more difficult division.
One year, I was supposed to be in the 12-14-year-old division. However, that particular year, we didn’t have enough boys that age to fill a team. The only solution was for us to play in the 14-16-year-old division, and so we did.
It was difficult because there is so much change in boys during those adolescent/teenage years. One kid might be 6’2” and weigh 200lbs and the next might be 5’4” and 105lbs. However, I was able hold my own with the older boys.
One day, we were playing a team in in less than desirable weather. It was chilly, and it had rained hard the night before, so the pitch was soaked, and in some parts, downright muddy. At one point, the keeper from the opposing team dropped-kicked the ball. It came in my direction and was kicked high in the air. I had time to gauge it and took a few steps of a running start to begin a header (in those days, of course, heading the ball was allowed). I went up to strike it with two members of the opposing team, both looking like gorillas to me as they were much larger than I, and I was sandwiched in between them. We knocked heads, but that wasn’t the problem (I know some of you would disagree). I fell flat on my chest after the collision and had the wind knocked out of me.
If you’ve ever had the wind knocked out of you, it’s a terrible feeling. You try to breathe and gasp for breath and nothing seems to help. Now, I had fallen right in the middle of mud puddle and my face was covered in mud. It was hard for me to get my breath, my chest was aching, and I remember thinking to myself, “just try to get up and pretend like it didn’t hurt – show these older guys you’re a man…”
It was then that I turned my head to the sideline and saw sight that made my heart sink… my mother was rushing out to me as I was laying on the ground, calling out “Oh, Nico, oh, oh, Nico!”
I can still remember EXACTLY how she looked and what she was wearing. Her eyes were bright, but wide out of fear. Her brow was pinched forward in an expression of either determination, sadness, or both. Her dark black hair (which she has miraculously maintained as such 30 years hence!), which was never longer than the nape of her neck, was pinned back with these metal clips that one would pinch on one end to open the mouth. And she was running. The last time I saw her run was when she was chasing my brother and me for doing something dumb when we were little (she actually cleared a table going after us). She was wearing a white blouse that had these little circles of red, orange, brown and black on it. Over that was a brown sweater with large, darker brown buttons and a brown fabric belt. She wore beige pants, hosiery and tan flats (I’m not sure she ever wore a sneaker since high-school gym class).
I could not have seen her running to me for more than a second or so. I immediately turned my head back into the mud and tried to bury my face, as if that would somehow make my whole body disappear and no one on the field would remember the sight of a mother coming to her 13 year-old son. Oh, how my adolescent manhood had been ripped from me in front of all these older dudes! At least, that’s what I thought for those woeful seconds.
I remember seeing her knees at eye level as she helped me on my feet. I slowly straightened up my back, but I kept my head hung low, thankful that the mud was masking my water-filled eyes.
All the way to the sideline she had her right arm around my waist and her left arm across her body holding my left arm. When I came the sidelines, I heard the whistle blow for the resumption of play, and my mom moved her hand to my face. My poor mother’s hands were usually pretty rough. She always did way too much work: cleaning, scrubbing, cooking -constantly – and her hands reflected that.
I will tell you, in than chilly rain, with what I thought was my masculinity left in a mud-puddle on the middle of a soccer field, her hands were the most soothing things I had ever felt, and her arm around my waist the most comforting thing I had ever known. If it had to be redone, I would not change a thing. I felt safe, understood I was being taken care of, and I knew I was loved.
Sometimes, we can’t always feel safe. There are things for which we cannot always account. But we know that we will always be taken care of by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we know that He loves us - and it’s important to remind people of this. And the best way to remind them is by showing others we love them, and we want them cared for. Our interactions with one another help bring Christ into one another’s lives. God has blessed us with the opportunity to do this now. I hope we all seize it and help bring Christ into each other’s lives. Amen.
A son whose gratitude and love for his mother
can never been adequately expressed