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In soccer small kindnesses matter just as much as the biggest event

For fans, it’s a thrill just to be at the World Cup. But that experience is made even richer when they realize the type of community they’re being welcomed into.

Germany v Sweden: Quarter Final - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images

am laboriously typing this out on my phone on a train to Lyon. Catastrophe struck this morning — I opened up my laptop, only to find a dark screen. No amount of fiddling with the power button helped. Theories ranged from a random update borking the OS to the difference in voltage in French outlets frying the battery, adapter notwithstanding. Google and several plaintive cries for help into various work slacks yielded no solutions. Instead of a functioning laptop containing my entire work life, I held in my hands a very expensive mirror. I began to think of all the computer-related vocabulary I would need to successfully navigate a computer repair shop in Lyon.

My editor, Kirsten, who is often much smarter and calmer than me, suggested I ask for a loaner if any of my friends were flying out for the semifinal. I also realized that I knew at least half a dozen people who had traveled who could reach out through their networks to dozens more. One group DM to a bunch of Portlanders later, and someone had offered their Chromebook to me for game days. Based on the timestamp, it took six minutes from me asking to someone offering.

While I’ve been traveling through France, I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating what has driven us all here for the World Cup. On the surface, it’s obvious. France is beautiful and the World Cup is a lifetime sort of event; many of us have been saving money for this tournament since 2015, without even knowing what the location would be. But on a deeper, more fundamental level, I still wonder about the basic human impulses that drive us toward sports and the community that forms around them. Humans are social animals; we need one another, even introverts like me. I think about my comrade Sophie Lawson, who has spent a month hauling herself through France in appallingly sweaty conditions, losing sleep and shelling money out of her own pocket to churn out World Cup coverage while sleeping in Murder Basements. Why would anyone subject themselves to that, unless there is something bigger than the pain and the exhaustion that makes it worth their while?

What do we get from the game that makes us willing to endure so much, physically, mentally, and emotionally? Part of it is the rush of brain chemicals that floods our minds while watching soccer, sure. But I think for most of us it’s our need to be with people in whose faces we recognize some core part of ourselves. It’s a community of emotion, a link so fundamental that someone would be willing to hand over to me an expensive electronic device, no questions asked, and trust I wouldn’t use it to promptly steal their identity.

I didn’t even particularly panic over my laptop, I realize now. I was in good spirits while I tried pressing the power button for the various lengths of time recommended by the internet. I think, deep down, I knew everything would be okay. It was a subconscious security that stemmed from the knowledge that I could reach out any time to ask for help from the soccer community in France. Someone would know someone who would know someone.

So now I’m carting around a plastic and silicone brick whose main function is likely to be its ability to be used as a drinks tray, or possibly a very unwieldy frisbee to toss down at the VAR station on the field in case of a call unfavorable to my team (Come onnnn, USA–Netherlands final!). Instead of panic, I am lounging in my train seat, the embodiment of the Ariana Grande “And what about it?” gif. Soccer might be one of the most stressful things I choose to do with my life, but it’s one of the most beautiful, energizing, enriching things in it too.

–Sent from my iPhone 8