I’ve always found stadiums and sports arenas fascinating. Like their sadder, more workweek cousins Convention Centers, stadiums are concrete, generic vessels that come alive when people united by a team or a band stream through their entrances. If sports and music are religion to some, then yes, stadiums are churches, and each person shuffling through the restroom line an individual worshipper.
On a Friday night in early July, I stood on the floor of a stadium in Chicago with tens of thousands of other twirling, wrinkled, middle aged people watching The Grateful Dead reunite after 20 years. The following Friday found me at another massive venue in New Jersey with my 8 year-old daughter to see Taylor Swift perform for squads of tween, teen and other variously aged females, plus a few baffled dads and boyfriends.
These two epic summer musical events in the space of one week smacked me in the face with nostalgia, and filled me with a new parental feeling I’ve been struggling to define. I was buoyed by the primal indulgence of entertainment, and felt unironically #blessed for the dual chances to supersize my and my daughter’s joy.
At the Dead show I was with girlfriends from college, and ran into others from all facets of my life. I was giddy and thrilled to be a part of a temporary hippie throwback moment – no matter how constructed. It was a massive party and I was going for it. My pleasure when the music started was both deeply personal and perfectly public. I was free to dance badly with feeling.
I had last seen The Dead in 1995. What struck me as I watched the band and the fans revel 20 years later is how rarely it is that I lose myself in anything these days – and how much I used to take that kind of letting go for granted. Now my energy seems solely focused on solving problems and creating opportunities for my kids and my work. As the band played, I forgot the checklists and lost myself in singing out lyrics and woo-hooing.
My experience was deepened at the Taylor Swift show, as I witnessed my daughter absorb her first concert. Z’s shiny, widened eyes, her fist raised in the air as she mirrored others around her, the adorable poster she and her best bud schlepped to the show – it was all so beautiful and pure. I breathed it in and put a mental photograph in her girlhood scrapbook for both of us. It made me tear up, because I recognized that Z having a formative experience. I was there for this one, and got to share it with her, but I realized as I watched her mouth move and her eyes follow the spectacle of girl power and pop music, that she was already having the kind of interior life I had reconnected with a week before in Chicago.
As I hugged her and we shouted out the words to “Bad Blood,” “Trouble,” and “Style,” all around me I saw girls and women of all ages doing the same. I saw people, thousands of them, standing in their stadium seats with their blinking bracelets and their smiles, looking as happy to be there as we felt. I squeezed her tighter.
A few days later Z left for overnight camp. It is really weird not having her around, which is a non-writerly way to describe her spotless, empty room and the negative space in our home without her loud voice and big personality, but weird is really what it is. Last week she was here but now she’s somewhere in New Hampshire, climbing ropes and making friends and learning archery, and I’m not there for any of it. She is being propelled into the world, but her inner life will always be with her. I hope she nurtures it with lots of music and art and friendship and anything else that reminds her that she is her own person, with her own story, but is always amongst thousands of others right there with her in the stadium.