Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Not the End but the Journey

A professional football player was recently quoted as saying “Not winning the Super Bowl makes you wish you never played in it.” 

Everyone wants to win.  If you play a sport, the goal is to win.  If you play cards, the goal is to win.  No one consciously wants to lose.  The problem is that no one wants to exert the effort if they cannot win.  People who try their best and come in second place are regarded as losers. 

The Buffalo Bills went to the Super Bowl four years in a row.  No other team has accomplished this feat.  This means that they were the American Football Conference champions for four consecutive years.  They owned the AFC.  But, because they lost four consecutive Super Bowls, they are regarded as losers, not as the winners that they certainly were.  Jim Kelly, the only quarterback to ever start four consecutive Super Bowls, has never watched those games, because the memories of losing them are so painful.  After the fourth Super Bowl loss, people in Buffalo were actually calling radio stations and pleading with the team members being interviewed not to take them back to the Super Bowl.  Apparently it was not worth the effort if they could not win.

There is a quote that is attributed to Henry Grantland Rice in the early 1900’s that ends, “It is not that you won or lost, it is how you played the game.”  Martina Navratilova, a tennis champion of the 70’s and 80’s, after hearing this quote, said “Whoever said that probably lost.” 

Winning, then, is the only thing that matters.  Not how you play the game.  Not how you conduct yourself during or after the game.  Not how you handle defeat.  Winning is the only worthy goal, and it overshadows sportsmanship, and courage, and honesty, and fellowship- everything.  This is why people cheat, or play dirty, or lie.  To win at all costs. Even at the cost of our souls.

In the 1925, Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur golfer (and some would say the greatest golfer), who ever played, was winning the US Open when he accidentally touched his ball with his club while setting up for a shot.  The ball moved slightly.  No one else saw it.  But Jones assessed himself with a penalty shot.  This penalty shot cost him the title.  When he was praised for his honesty, Jones said “You might as well praise me for not robbing banks.”  To Jones, not giving himself a penalty shot was the equivalent to stealing, and he could not do it.  He would rather finish in second place than destroy his character.

If we are to be a people of substance; if we are to keep our souls, winning at any cost cannot be the way we play the game. Winning, in fact, will be secondary to the process of playing the game; a process in which we will find that it is not the end but the journey that matters most.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Black Swan

We left our camp and walked down the trail.  We didn't know where we were going or what we would find.  We were just glad to be in the woods.  Or so I thought.

It was October.  Jeremy, my five year old son, and I were camping with the Girl Scouts at Camp Tarheelia.  They took us along for security since no other scout troop would be in camp that weekend.  Jeremy and I stayed in a tent in the woods and the girls and their leaders (including my wife) stayed in the cabin up the path.  While the girls were busy with troop activities, Jeremy and I went hiking in the woods.

We walked for 30 minutes when the woods opened up before us into a field of tall grasses.  In the middle was a pond.
"Come on, Jeremy."
"Where are we going", he asked.
"To the pond."
"How do we get there?"
"Through the grass."

Jeremy's eyes grew large and he shook his head.  I looked at the grass and realized it would be over his head.
"Follow right behind me," I said.  "I'll mash the grass down as I go."
I walked ahead.  A few feet into the grass I looked back.  Jeremy had not followed.
"Daddy, let's go back to camp."
"No, don't you want to see the pond.  There might be some ducks on it."

He walked a little way into the path I had made, looking to his left, then to his right, his eyes wide.  We walked like that for about 100 yards and finally made our way to the pond.  Below us, at the edge of the water, were wild cattails.
"See the cattails, Jeremy?"
"Are there wildcats in there?"
"No, cattails are plants that grow in the water of a pond.  Here, I'll show you."

I climbed down to the water's edge and reached for a cattail.  Jeremy lost sight of me.  "Daddy!" he screamed.
"I'm down here, Jeremy."
"Where, I can't see you.  Hurry, I hear noises."

I listened.  There was a strange noise coming from the pond.  I parted the cattails and looked out onto the water.  In the distance was a large, solid black swan with a brilliant red beak.  I stood mesmerized by its beauty.  It looked at me and hissed.
"What was that noise?" asked Jeremy. "Let's go back to camp."
"It's a swan, Jeremy".  I cut a cattail, then went back to Jeremy.
"What's a swan?"
"I'll show you."

We walked around the pond to the opposite side of a field overgrown with wildflowers of all colors.  Jeremy saw barn in the distance.
"Does this land belong to a farmer?" he asked.
"Yes."
"Let's go back to camp.  In Peter Rabbit, a farmer chased him with a hoe for coming into his garden."
"This is a nice farmer and we aren't rabbits."

We walked to a clearing to watch the swan.  After a few minutes, Jeremy asked, "When are we going back to camp?"
"Let's go."

Jeremy led the way, running ahead of me through the field, through the grass and up the trail to our tent.  That night, all the Girl Scouts, the leaders and Jeremy and I sat around the campfire that Jeremy helped me build.
Jeremy showed the girls his cattail.
"What's that?" they asked.  "Where did you get it?'  "We want one."
"Me and Daddy, we found it at the pond."
"A pond!  Where's the pond?"
"Only Daddy and me know how to get there.  And there's a black swan on it with a red mouth."
"A black swan!" they screamed.  "You've got to take us there tomorrow and show us.  Will you, Jeremy?'
"Yeah.  But you have to be careful because you have to walk in the farmer's field."
"We'll be careful.  Will you show us where the cattails are?"
"Yes, but you can only have just one."

The girls went up the path to the cabin and left Jeremy and me by the fire.  The fire crackled and sputtered and the firelight reflected in Jeremy's eyes.
"Do you think the black swan will be there tomorrow when we go back?" he asked.
"Yes, he lives there."
"I'll show them where he lives and how to walk through the grass.  And then I will help you cut some cattails for them." said Jeremy.

The fire began to die down.  "Daddy, I can't wait for tomorrow."
In the dim light, Jeremy looked suddenly older.  And I threw more wood on the fire, wishing the night would last forever.