There was a time when I was on a basketball team. Perhaps you might remember this. I know I’ve told you about this before so I will spare some of the details and stick to the point.
I was the little skinny kid that could hardly reach the basket when I took a shot remember? I was smaller than everyone. I was uncoordinated and uncomfortable at my best. I was also different in ways that made this team difficult for me. I was a stranger to the other kids on the team. Or, maybe the other kids were strangers to me. Either way, they all knew each other but they didn’t know me. They were all friends and me, I was this little skinny kid that rode the bench and went to a different school.
To be honest, I just wanted to play. The game seemed like fun. I wanted to have an enjoyable and new experience, which it was an experience. I give you this. It was not enjoyable to say the least. It was a lesson though and one I would never forget. I was picked on. I was bullied. I was left out and yet, I still showed up for every practice.
I used to go home upset. I never had fun at practice. I never had much fun at any of the games either. I just went is all I can say. I wanted to quit. I asked if I could quit but The Old Man said “No!” The Old Man told me quitting becomes a habit. He said I quit too much. And that was a problem for him. “You can’t just quit because things don’t go your way,” said The Old Man. My Old Man was of the opinion that quitting becomes a lifestyle. He believed there is dignity in loss so long as we competed at our best.
There were other tensions for me on this team. Aside from my lack of athletic ability and coordination, I was not of the same faith. This was a Catholic league called C.Y.O. I was in 6th grade at the time. I didn’t know much about my own religion let alone the differences between Judaism and Catholicism. I never thought much about God or the Son of. I never paid much attention to anything in school, let alone religion classes on the weekends. I never knew who Mary was or Joseph. I knew there was this thing called Christmas. Everybody knew that. I knew there was this thing called Easter. Everybody knew that too. As a kid, I remember being told, “Jews don’t have Easter.” I was told, “Jews don’t have Christmas either,” and that’s why Santa never came to my house.
“You can’t let them beat you,” said The Old Man.
“They win if you quit.”
As I saw it, they were winning anyway. I was kicked around a little bit. I was teased. And yet, I showed up every practice, which is not because I wanted to. In fairness, I never quit because I wasn’t allowed to.
The Old Man told me, “This will teach you heart.” As I saw it, this just taught others that I was the mark and that I was there to take a beating or whatever they threw at me. I did not see me sticking this out as a sign of strength. I saw this as me being an outlet for someone to bully.
The Old Man never told the coach about my problems. I suppose if he did, the coach would have spoken to the other kids. I suppose I would have looked like the kid that ran home to tell his parents all the time. This is not the kid that anyone wants to be. I suppose this would have made things worse in some way.
One night the coach yelled at the entire team. He told them not one of them had heart — except for me. He told the team he sees what they do. He saw how they treated me. “And no matter what you do to him, he still shows up. Not one of you in here has heart like him.” The kids were nice to me for the rest of the practice. They still jabbed at me from time to time. But although I was not a winner on the court, I still held a victory.
I never played a team sport after that. I can’t say that I understood much about this lesson back then. However, I do look back on me at that time. I remember the times when I did something unexpected in a game, which was seen as a good move. At least I had that. At least I never let the other kids make me quit.
Saying it’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game does not always compute. It is not easy to be a sports fan and I cannot say that I am the biggest of them all. But I can say that I am a fan of the underdog. I am a fan of the man that refuses to quit.
For example, I watched a kick boxing match in which the underdog fighter was losing on all the judge’s score cards. He was trying. He was doing all he could but the other fighter was simply better. The other fighter was stylistically flashy and quick. The other fighter hardly broke a sweat. Towards the end of the fight with a loss that seemed to be inevitable, the underdog struck a blow to the chin of his opponent. The better fighter had his knees buckle beneath him, and then, BAM! Down for the count. The look of surprise on the better fighter’s face was amazing to me. It’s true though. Pride does come before the fall.
I went to a basketball game the other night. This was pre-season, but still the seats were great and close enough that I could hear the players talk trash to one another. It was great!
Unfortunately, my team did not play well. More importantly, at no point did they quit. They still tried the entire time. They lost but they wouldn’t give in and allow themselves to be beaten. I admire this.
There are times when no matter how hard this hurts, we have to stick to our game plan. Even if the loss is already in the books, we can’t just surrender our heart. Otherwise, how can we breathe? How can we face ourselves in the mirror if we fold inward and simply just quit?
There are fights around us on all different fronts. There are difficulties we face on a daily basis. People, places and things are a daily interaction. However, if I am to succeed at my goals, win, lose or draw, I have to find whatever it is, deep inside of me, hold it, let it burn and then let my drive move me as best as it possibly can.
I recently just turned 47. Not old but not young anymore, it’s been a while since I had to sit in a classroom or take a test. It was odd being more than 20 years older than the instructor in the class I had to take. It was odd being more experienced than some of the others in the class. Either way, still, I have a game to play.
To reach the next level of the game, I have an exam I have to take. I need this to be state recognized and Medicaid reimbursable as a recovery advocate. If I’m being honest, I have some fears about the test. If I’m being honest, I took a few practice exams. I only had three wrong on the first one because i didn’t read the question properly. I had none wrong on the second. Still, I have a sense of nervousness. I have pre-game jitters.
The Old Man once told me, “I don’t care if you fail as long as you try hard.”
He told me, “If you try hard then you can’t fail.”
I don’t know about that, Pop.
I just know I have a game to play. I just know I can’t quit. I know I might shoot and miss sometimes. I know that I might have to find myself a better team or teammates to play with. I might have to change or learn better strategies. But above all, I can’t quit. I can’t stop trying no matter what the scorecard says because so long as I do this, I might lose, but I will never be beaten.
We cannot give in to fear or insecurity.
By the way, I ever tell you about an initiative I did and thought I was the least experienced in the room? Everyone had degrees and big job titles. I was intimidated and scared. I was intellectually bullied and told to stay in my lane and let the “Professionals” handle this.
I was anxious. I was thinking about quitting. I was also showcased on the news and made the front page of the newspaper because of my efforts. Meanwhile, none of the others were really mentioned. Just me, the underdog that refused to quit.
I owe this to you by the way. There were so many times I wanted to quit. There were so many times I was angry and uncomfortable. There were times when I was bullied and times when I was told to stay on the bench. There were times when I felt so beaten that I could not take another step. But I did. Even when I couldn’t, I still did.
This is the art of not quitting . . .