Last year/this year/next year in Green Bay

Green and gold grandmas and greasy-haired uncles and moms with sparkly cheesehead helmets.

Packers attire from Walmart, from thrift stores, from 1998.

The $64-a-night Bay Motel, complete with breakfast coupons from the motel diner and a homemade hot sauce that’s worth looking forward to all year.

Sunny blue-skied mornings, free ice cream bars at 9am, waiting for players to bike in for camp alongside elated neighborhood kids.

These are some of the things I’m missing right now.

For three years in a row, Jenny and I have left for Green Bay in the last week of July and come home in the first week of August. It’s a 12-to-14 hour one-way drive, depending on time zones and traffic. We’re usually only in Green Bay for three or four days. But without a doubt, it is my favorite week of every year.

This year, because pandemics are the ultimate buzz kill, we are not packing a cooler and loading up on audio books. We are staying home. And with the full perspective of how completely inconsequential my missed vacation is in a world filled with a wide variety of pain and loss, it sort of feels like we’re skipping Christmas. Like the calendar jumped straight from the frenzy of Black Friday to the frenzy of January 2nd, and all the joy and warmth and meaning found in one special season has been put on hold for another full year.

Last year, on our final night in Green Bay, we took one last lap around the stadium before getting a late dinner at 1919, the restaurant in the Lambeau Field atrium. It was dark, because, predictably, we had already taken several “last laps” around the stadium. On that actual last lap, the sky was a mix of navy and cerulean and cornflower blue, and the lights around the stadium were the perfect shade of gold. A sliver of moon hung in the sky and a handful of stars were just starting to peek through. And as we rounded the final corner and walked up the steps to 1919, I had this terrible, aching feeling that we wouldn’t be coming back this year, and tears started streaming down my face right then and there. The spirit of Vince Lombardi was probably hovering over me, rolling his eyes, wondering what happened to mental toughness.

I’m sorry, Coach! I’m emotional!

Later, after eating the very best chips at 1919 and planning to write a book of essays about football this year that I never actually wrote this year, I wrote this in the list of notes I take on every trip:

“It’s never guaranteed that you get to come back. Everything can change in a split second. And even if you do get to come back, it won’t be exactly like this. This is your one chance to have this exact experience. It’s like this with Lambeau. It’s like this with life.”

And good grief, that is just a killer quote to read back one year later. Especially this year later.

Here is what I know now that I only sort of knew then: There is literally no time to waste.

We all know this. We’ve all had wake-up calls that shake us into acknowledging that our lives on earth are finite. And yet somehow, sooner than later, we sleepily drift back into the numb normalcy of everyday life. We forget the urgency of today and establish “someday” as the holding space for all of the things we really want to do.

Why do we do this?! And how could we ever continue in that pattern after a year like this one?

The time to do all of the things we really want to do may not be right now. It may not be appropriate or even possible, as per this year’s training camp road trip. But the time to commit to all of those things, to start working toward them? That is for sure right now.

So next year, pandemic notwithstanding, I don’t want to spend three or four days in Green Bay. I want to spend three or four weeks in Green Bay. And I don’t want to spend the whole year thinking about the essays I should be writing. I want to actually write them—whether they’re about football or about literally anything else, whether they get published and printed or only live here on my laptop—I just want to write them.

And right now, in this week I would have spent in Green Bay had this year not been a colossal bummer? I don’t want to spend it moping around, wishing Jenny and I were closing down Titletown with the last ping pong game of the night. I want to spend it being present here, 100% here, because this is also my one chance to have this exact experience.

There’s no time to waste or take for granted, even if it looks a little bit different than expected.

Plus, thanks to the conversion of our dining room table into a ping pong table, we can at least close down our house with the last game of the night. There’s a little less magic and fanfare, but in this version, the loser gets dish duty. Boom.

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  • Do those things! Make the plans and see them through.

    Also: don’t fret about them if they don’t pan out. Life is too short to spend it being disappointed with yourself. Pick a next thing, and do that.