I did not attend the Patriots home opener on Sunday. It was the first home opener I missed in two decades.
Instead, I was officiating the wedding of the daughter of a friend. It was an honor and a privilege to be asked to do something as important as marrying a couple, but admittedly, I was sad about missing my Patriots take the field for the first time in 2023.
Adding to the pain was Tom Brady’s return to Gillette Stadium for a special halftime celebration of his career.
The text messages began arriving sometime after noon, more than three hours before kickoff, from my friends and tailgate buddies. They were already in the parking lot outside the stadium, gathered for our traditional pregame festivities.
First came the photos of the tailgate party, featuring friends and food, followed by messages like:
“10 person tailgate!”
“Ohhhhh, dessert, dessert.”
“Miss a home opener? Shaun’s son is here on his anniversary!”
In the midst of the game, following an excellent play by the Patriots:
“Almost as good as our five cheese mac & cheese with pulled pork and slaw. But I digress.”
Lots of attempts to make me feel wrong, foolish, and disappointed about missing this important game.
Here’s the thing:
I was so happy to receive their text message. So pleased by their cruelty.
I would’ve done exactly the same thing.
As mean-spirited as these messages and photos were, I knew I wasn’t forgotten. I knew I was, at least to some small degree, missed. While they ate delicious food, watched football on a September afternoon, and spent time enjoying one another’s company, they also, for a moment, were thinking about me.
Yes, their comments were cruel, but their cruelty was also appreciated. Had they sent me messages like:
“Thinking about you today, buddy. Really wish you were here.”
“So proud of you for putting your desires aside and choosing to be a good friend.”
“Miss you, Matty. We really, really do.”
… I might’ve called the state police in fear that the gas on their outdoor grill was leaking into their Easy-Up and poisoning them.
I’m sure some people communicate with kindness, and in rare moments of need, my friends and I might opt to be a little more sentimental, but most of the time, a stinging barb, a well-timed insult, or a forceful rebuke is preferred.
Cruelty is kindness. It lets me know that they care. As they celebrated the opening to another Patriots football season without me on Sunday, they let me know I wasn’t forgotten.