Saturday, March 13, 2010

A non-athletic view of things

I should have known better.  To think I was actually going to write about something academic for a bit.  I should have known better.  After all, this is the season of the year.  Tonight, the boys who play basketball at Beve's high school, won the State title in the 2A class.  Repeated as state champions, I should say.  There are five seniors on that team who have been playing together since they were fifth graders.  They've been winning that long as well.  So it's kind of a big deal that they won again--for everyone who cheers for them.  Probably just as big a deal that they're finally--finally--graduating, for everyone who's played against them all these years.

And yesterday we got our Sports Illustrated.  As is my way, I opened it to the back page, and read that editorial first.  Sure, it isn't quite the same since Rick Reilly left, but there's still usually something unique about the story told on that page, a different kind of sports hero.  There was a story about a man who pushed his disabled son in races, and other stories about kids who died too soon.  But this week's story was about a dad--a 70-year-old dad who still loved to lace up his high tops and play a little hoop with his sons.

I instantly thought of my own dad when I read this article.  Sure, Beve's dad was the rock star athlete of the family, but my dad had longevity.  Dad wasn't particularly athletic, if truth be told.  He used to laugh about the piece of paper that could be slid under his feet when he jumped, and how he made up for it by being the slowest man on the court.  But he hung in there.  At WSU, where he worked all of his professional life, he played basketball three days a week, unless he was out of town or in the hospital.  Those were about his only excuses.  He got cancer in his early fifties, which resulted in a colostomy, but that didn't stop him.  I remember a prof friend of mine once saying he'd seen Dad in the hall of the PE building after a noon game, and admired how Dad wasn't at all self-conscious about that colostomy bag.  I think Dad would have done just about anything not to have had that dang bag, but he wasn't going to let it inconvenience his life.

Beve, who is precisely the age now that Dad was when he got cancer, has long since hung up his ball, but he loved to go up and play with Dad and the other nooners when we visited.  It was a faculty-grad student only game, but Dad could get Beve in, though I'm pretty sure the other players weren't always thrilled when they saw Dad's son-in-law show up.  Even less thrilled when Beve showed up with one of his brothers.  But Dad loved it.  It was a highlight of a visit, and always a disappointment if Beve hadn't brought his gear with him.

Just yesterday J was asking me why I'm not more competitive.  I told him I actually am very competitive, it's just that I only like competing at things I know I have a possibility of winning.  I am NOT an athlete.  In fact, I am almost as far from athletic as one can get and still walk upright.  And I'm pretty sure my father wasn't all that much more athletic than I am.  What my dad had was perseverance.  The ability to endure, press on, carry on.  Stay with something.  Hang in there.  He always said he played basketball because it was the best way he knew to get the exercise he needed. He knew he'd never run, not when he could play a game he liked, even if he wasn't always that good at it.  He just pressed on--even to the last summer of his life.

And this is a spiritual virtue.  It's not athletic talent that we are called to cultivate. If one is so gifted, by all means, by every means, for God's sake, cultivate it, use it for Him, allow Him to be glorified through it.  Like my nephew, who took as God-given gift of eye-foot coordination with a soccer ball, and was privileged to use it for Him in Kenya.  But we are all asked to persevere.  To press on.  To keep lacing 'em up, so to speak, even if we can barely jump and are slower than me (who is a whole lot slower than the molasses you expected that sentence to end with!).  To keep pressing on, up and down the court.  The athletic doing of our faith.  Perseverance.

Romans 5: 3-5

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