I meant to avoid my problems, to give my weary emotions a break, so I gathered the children and turned on the football game. I live too far from Boone Pickens Stadium to drag the boys there on game days, but I sat them on the couch and reminded them to wave an arm each time we scored ó a tradition almost as old as the state of Oklahoma.

I settled in and tried to forget, for just a couple of hours, that my friend and her two tiny sons were scared. That her husband had a brain tumor so large that he went directly from the MRI to the emergency room. That there would be surgery. Dangerous surgery.

I pushed aside the fact that another friendís brother was in intensive care. His fate uncertain. I sat down the wounds of my own that I was carrying, wounds that werenít physical but that still bled, and I turned my attention to the sport Iíve been watching since before I was a week old.

First down. Second down. Then, a young man in orange caught the ball, broke away from the opposing team and raced toward the end zone, half a field away. But before he had taken many steps, he was surrounded by other men in orange whose only job was to take the hit for him. If anyone was going to fall, it would be one of those men first.

They didnít stop to discuss where he should go or what path would be best. They didnít check their calendars. They didnít decide to take the ball and give it to a faster runner. They followed him and they covered him.

And when the one who carried the weight and the responsibility of the ball made it across the line, they all celebrated.

I stood and waved my arm as the band played, and I cried at what Iíd seen thousands of times before and only noticed once.

We all need people to surround us, to pray down heaven when weíre too weak or discouraged to do it for ourselves. We need people to make meals, to show up and mow the grass and answer the thousandth text message.

We need people to take the hit so we can move the ball down the field.

But none of that happens unless we understand that every time our cleats hit the turf we all risk getting tackled. The quarterback. The center. The linebacker. The businesswoman. The husband. The farmer. The teacher. The sister.

People are playing some of the biggest games of their lives, and this game isnít meant to be played alone.

Maybe I can stand up for your integrity when others try to tear you down. Maybe I can meet you at the hospital. Maybe I can pay your rent while you find work. And we can celebrate together when we cross into the end zone.

ó Marketta Gregory is a former religion reporter who canít stop writing about what is sacred and holy. She is a native of Oklahoma but makes her home in Rochester, New York, with her husband, two crazy boys and one very vocal Pomeranian. Find more of her writing at SimplyFaithful.com or check out her book, ďSimply Faithful: Finding the Sacred in Everyday Life.Ē