Coordinating ambitions and abilities

A barely controlled, continuous stumble might be the best description of my son’s exit from the house as he went to meet the school bus one recent morning. Somehow he managed to make the momentary adjustments to his center of gravity necessary to maintain an upright position.

The school bus passes our house, then turns around to come back and pick up the children. When the bus passes, he still has plenty of time to make it out to the street before the bus returns. The problem is when he feels hurried, most of the coordination leaves his body. When that happens, gravity is not his friend.

This condition is genetic. When I was in seventh grade, I was the third-tallest boy in my grade. “I really can’t play,” I said in response to the basketball coach’s suggestion that I try out for the team.

“You’re tall. We can make you a good player,” he replied. “You can do anything you set your mind to.”

He had never seen anything like me trying to run the three-man weave. The drill requires good passing, agile footwork, and a sense of where the other players are on the court. I think I turned it into the three-man tangle. I felt sorry for the other two players who were on the court with me. They were as baffled by my movements as I was by the drill.

At the end of the weeklong tryouts I was called into the coach’s office. As kindly as he could he said, “You were right. You really can’t play. There’s not much hope you can be a good player.”

I had been vindicated. I was right. Suddenly I wanted to be wrong.

I’m not sure who started the cruel myth that we can do anything we set our minds to. It’s possible that if I had spent hours practicing basketball, and studying diagrams of the three-man weave, that I could have made the eighth-grade team. I never could have become an NBA player. Even now, it sometimes looks like a barely controlled, continuous stumble if I try to engage in most sports. Gravity is often not friendly to me. That’s why I stick to golf. I may not be great at it, but at least the ground is soft.

Not everyone can be a star athlete. Nor can everyone become an astrophysicist, or a master carpenter, even if they really put their minds to it.

I will not tell my children that they can do anything they set their minds to. Instead, I will encourage them to figure out what gifts they have. I will tell them to set their minds to developing those gifts. It is good to try things that are not exactly within their gift set. It will stretch them, but they do not need to feel like they have failed if they can’t get the three-man weave.

RJ Johnson

I have been a priest for 16 years.  I spent the first four years in Minnesota and Wisconsin, six years on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, before becoming the pastor at Advent Episcopal Church in Westlake in 2010.  If anyone would find it interesting I have a son and daughter, which I refer to as a matched set, a wife, a dog, and a cat.

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Volume 7, Issue 4, Posted 9:09 AM, 02.17.2015