A few weeks ago, I sat at a diner with two friends munching on pancakes as a World Cup soccer game played in the background. While I shoveled syrupy bites into my mouth, my friends eyed the game and exchanged stories about World Cup fever. Four years ago, as soccer teams descended upon Germany, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain. Though I didn’t (and still don’t) know all that much about soccer, I knew that the World Cup was a big deal. I remember that my friends and I walked to a small bar to watch a soccer game, and the city of Seville looked like a ghost town. The streets, dark except for bluish light reflecting off of televisions in apartment windows, were empty until the game ended. Everyone single human being in the city was inside watching the game. Then, similar to the way a tornado erupts in Texas — with all that loud noise and swirling wind and mysterious danger and beauty— soccer fans poured into the streets. Cars honked and people cheered and danced and shouted “Viva España!” Spain was the victor, and the celebrations lasted all night.
A few days later, a friend and I took an evening walk through the streets of Granada. We had just finished a late dinner (in typical Spanish fashion, the meal started at 10pm and lasted several hours), and we were searching for adventuras: a tapas bar, a flamenco dancer, something Spanish. Quietly at first, then louder and louder, the sound of a drum beating in the distance caught our attention. We decided to chase the noise. Stumbling through the dark streets, we walked further and further until our tired feet pleaded for rest. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we bumped into a procession for the Virgin Mary. A parade of people, hundreds of people, was moving slowly through the streets to the sound of the drum. Occasionally, they would sing songs or chant “Viva la Virgin! Viva España!” Everything was sparkling: the ornately decorated float-like contraption holding up a statue of the Virgin Mary and the faces and clothes of the people (young and old) carrying the float. The street was alive and sparkling until the procession made its way into a church. Then, just as quickly as the procession appeared, it disappeared. The streets were vacant, and the only light was the yellow glowing from the church windows. It took me four years – syrup drizzling down my chin as I finally had the “aha!” moment – to realize how similar these two experiences were.
To have this sort of passion! It’s what I long for the most. To love a game or a Virgin or anything so much that I can’t help but shout “Viva!” as I walk through the streets at night. To stop being a passive observer, to grab my banner, and to march.
Brittney Smith is a recent graduate of the Graduate Theological Union/Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, CA. This summer, she will say goodbye to redwood trees and return to Texas, the motherland, to begin work as a chapel and event coordinator. She wishes she could have celebrated Spain’s first World Cup victory on the streets of Sevilla!