Monthly Archives: October 2009

…for sports!

Today, I am thankful for sports.

Generally, sports are a kind of an afterthought in my life. I’ve never been too terribly athletic, and I’ve spent much of my life very overweight. It also doesn’t help that I have two rolling ankles. To some extent, these are “excuses” for avoiding sports, but this is besides the point. Or at least, I would like to think that it is.

For those of you wondering where I am going with this, I played tennis today. Which, if I remember correctly, is the first recreational athletic event I’ve done this semester, if not this entire year. Exercise for me is usually a personal thing. I have my track pants, my music, and my shirt that is always just a bit too tight. When I want to burn calories, I hit the gym. It’s just me, my flabby stomach, and the music that keeps me going.

The gym has always been a funny place to me, kind of like some mad sociologist’s experiment. Have you ever noticed how no one in the gym ever talks to one another, no matter how close together they might be? It’s just an exercise in ignoring people for half an hour. But this is besides the point. This is about tennis, right?

There’s something invigorating about playing a sport with others. Sports often require the interaction and cooperation of multiple individuals. While “winning”, whatever that is, tends to be the common goal, the greater factor is the manner in which teammates interact with one another. Even in sports where no teams are involved, and selfish victory is the prize, participants must play a complementing strategy in order to best their opponent.

Somewhere in-between the throwing of an object back and forth, I caught a glimpse of the beauty that so many find in sports. In the community that comes from that. And it was refreshing. Relaxing. Despite how I will never be drafted into any kind of sport, ever, I fully intend to go back to sports recreationally. To tennis. To volleyball. To basketball. And other things that would have me “plugged in” with others.

For those of you who don’t know, I work in the alumni relations department of my school. This is a fancy way of saying that I am a telemarketer who calls alumni and asks them for even more money than what they have already offered to the school I currently attend.

Yes, I am that person.

Anyway, I love talking to alumni, because alumni are interesting. For reasons not altogether surprising to me, I tend to learn more from my elders than I do from my peers. Not all the time, just ninety-nine percent of it.

Last night, I was talking to Coach Ayton. Coach Ayton walked across the campus that I walk across about forty years ago. Which is completely incomprehensible to me. That said, he has the word “Coach” in his title because he has been leading young men and women for nearly forty years. Which is, twice as long as I have been alive. When I asked him how on Earth he found the motivation to not quit his job after so many years, he told me a story.

About ten years ago, Coach Ayton said, there was this young man on the team who yelled all sorts of words at him, the kind of words that tend to get people in trouble, or give movies R-ratings. And the Coach told this young man that he was off the team. Instantly, the young man begged the Coach for a second chance, which the Coach did after some thinking. Later that week, the Coach met with the student, and told him that he could come back on one condition. Without explaining the condition, the Coach drove this young man twelve miles outside of town, and told him to run all twelve miles back to the school. Before he sent the young man on his way, the Coach went to the trunk of car and pulled out a cow tongue that he had bought from the local butcher. He told the young man that if he could carry that tongue back to the school, that he would let him back on the team. The young man complied. Twelve miles and some time later, the weary student had made it back to campus, cow tongue in hand. “I want to save this, Coach,” the young man said. When the Coach asked why, the young man said, “Because you taught me how to hold my tongue. And I don’t ever want to forget that.” So, Coach Ayton told me, the young man pickled the cow tongue, and the young man, who is not quite so young now, has the jar sitting on his bookshelf to this very day.

That, Coach Ayton told me, was the reason that he gets up every morning. Because he’s not really coaching. He’s changing people’s lives. And this, I think, is the true power that lies within sports. There’s a lot more going on in-between the lines than a ball being passed back and forth. It isn’t so much about the game itself as it is about commitment. As it is about perseverance. Yes, it is about the sort of thing that companies exploit to sell energy drinks. But it’s also a little more than that.

I can’t even imagine running twelve miles to stay on a team, much less holding a cow tongue while doing so! I probably would have thrown in the towel at fifty yards, cow tongue or not. And it is for this, that I am thankful for sports, and its ability to make us go above and beyond where we would normally go. Because, every so often, we need that push. I know I do.

Today, I am thankful for sports. For Coach Payton. For cow tongues. What, or whom, are you thankful for today?

…for fathers!

Today, I am thankful for fathers.

Typically, as a rule, I am thankful for fathers in the most general sense. Though my own father and I have always loved one another, our love has always been characterized by tension. Disagreement. Neither of us do much to avert this tension, as I offer my sarcasm and he offers his raised voice.

Our squabbles can be traced to something as significant as life after college, or to something as trivial as a flu shot. And somewhere in-between the lines, I often forget that my father does really love me. It’s easy to forget that after a shouting match on the phone about grades, or my ignoring his calls.

But today, on the walk home from dinner, I was struck with the power of fatherly love. Not from my own father, or even directed towards me.

A few hundred feet from home, I came across a father throwing rocks with his children. He couldn’t have been too much older than I, judging from his red sweater and shorts, and the youthful grin on his face. Here was a grown man, running around in circles, jumping up and down, kneeling with two little tots that couldn’t have been a day older than six or seven. Under any other circumstance, displays of this nature in public would be disheartening. But here, it was heartbreaking.

It made me, if just for a moment, made the flustered and anxious person I call “father” turn back into the man with a grin on his face, and the weight of reality absent from the lines beneath his eyes. I saw myself throwing rocks, climbing on my dad’s shoulders, wiping my runny nose on his sleeve.

Much of life can seem meaningless, at times. But it’s the brief asides, like those, that remind me that there’s just a little bit more to what’s going on than the monotonous dealings of day-to-day living. That remind me that even the most difficult and distant of people still, deeper down, love.

Today, I am thankful for fathers who love their children. What, or whom, are you thankful for today?

…for honesty!

Today, I am thankful for honesty.

I’ve been struggling with honesty lately. What does honesty look like, really? I think it’s safe to say that most of us agree that “honesty” refers to whatever isn’t a lie, be it a whale of a tale or a little white falsity. And I get that. Or at least, conceptually. But at a deeper level, in a practical sense, I’m continually finding that I haven’t the slightest clue what honesty looks like within the context of daily living.

In so many words, I’m just trying to say that I’m really struggling with managing my time. I’ve never really been one to be blunt with people. I sugarcoat things. I ask people how they are, and try to show that I care, whether or not I’m actually caring. Rather than denying people my time and conversation, I often pretend that I am infinitely more available than I actually am.

And in my vain attempts to “be there for people”, which I am slowly finding is really just fancy lingo for “people pleasing”, I have been missing out on the beauty and simplicity found in plain, unadulterated honesty.

Rather than embracing frankness, I have been been lying to myself and others. I’ve been unrealistic about what I am able to do and not do.

The other day, I went to get doughnuts with a few friends of mine when I should have been in the library. When they asked me if I was available, I told them that I was, when I really wasn’t. Coffee and conversation have consumed much of my time, which in turn has resulted in my inability to keep up with schoolwork, my tardiness, my heightened anxiety, my lack of sleep, my lack of church attendance, my lack of blogging, and my lack of any sort of routine.

This sort of phenomenon is commonly known as “a case of the Mondays”. Which is true, except that this has been true for my life every single day of the week.

My therapist tells me that this is happening because “I am not a priority”. Which, on the surface, doesn’t make sense in the slightest. Making myself more of a priority to be a better person towards others makes about as much sense as applying gasoline to a fire in order to put it out. But then, I thought about the implications of what my therapist had to say. What if, doctors took care of themselves first so that they were able to heal others? This is not to say that I am any sort of healer, or anything. I’m far from it.

What I am trying to say is that this morning was the first time that I wasn’t late to class in over three weeks. The reasoning behind this isn’t any sort of magic, or any sort of added willpower or pick-me-up. Rather, I planned my entire evening last night around being early to my eight o’clock class. I planned my entire morning around being early to my eight o’clock class. I showered before I went to bed. I did homework, but refused to let myself stay up too late. I kept from drinking coffee.

And as a result, I saw the sun rise for the first time in over three weeks. I felt at peace and wasn’t rushed. And my day has been on an upward track so far. Am I being more selfish? Probably. On the other hand, however, I’m also getting more done, which means that I’ll actually have some free time down the road to spend with others. So, you decide!

Today is my first entry for the month of October. I’m praying that today is a fresh chance to start over, to gloss over the past three weeks and greet this month anew. To begin to be honest with my friends and my teachers. And even with you.

Today, I’m a little bit thankful for everything. I’m thankful for the little things these past three weeks that have kept the sun shining. I’m also thankful for the little things that aren’t pleasant, that point me towards the better things that I’ve gotten, in addition to the better things to come. I’m thankful for what looks like “selfishness”. I’m thankful for being more honest with others, and even more importantly, with myself.

That’s about it, quite honestly. What are you thankful for today?