What is Lost
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
— from “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye
If you have never met me in person, I have some news for you. I am not a tall guy. I am 5-9 in socks, 5-10 with shoes on. Despite my limited height I was, for most of my young life, a pretty good athlete. And my favorite sport - by far - was basketball. I loved it. I would play for hours. I would play by myself. I would go in search of games against the very best players I could find to get better. I played in high school and in college. I even played in my early years in the Army.
Then, one day, I just… stopped. Basketball stopped being fun. I realized that when I played I turned into a hyper-competitive asshole. The sport catered to my worst impulses. I was selfish. I was overbearing. I was obnoxious. And I wasn’t nearly as good as I thought I was. Especially as I got older. I wasn’t fast anymore. I was never tall. I was, in modern parlance, a high-volume and low-efficiency scorer who didn’t pass and only cared marginally about defense. When I was on the court, I wasn’t someone anyone wanted to be around. Especially me.
So I walked away. I will occasionally shoot around at the gym, but I haven’t played an actual competitive game in 20 years. I played one on one with Matthew a few times while he was in high school, but I had to stop doing that too. I was even an asshole to him. When I tell you that it was time to walk away, believe me, it was.
And. As much as I know it was the right choice to stop doing something that was an impediment to me being the best person I could be, I also lost something when I walked away. For years, basketball had been a thing that helped center me in the midst of real trauma. It was the place where I felt safe, and where I was able to focus on something positive for the few hours that I played. I liked being part of a team. I liked taking road trips with my teammates. I liked (way too much it turns out) talking trash. I liked the way something inside of me lit up when the ball went in the basket. Basketball helped me deal with a lot of things.
It turns out that when you give up something like that you should have a plan to replace it.
There are a lot of voices suggesting that we eliminate stuff from our lives. We should eliminate carbs. We should eliminate toxic people. We should eliminate bad art made by bad people for bad reasons. We should even Marie Kondo our closet and eliminate our actual stuff. SO we run headlong into elimination mode and ditch everything bad. And look, I am not in any way suggesting that any of us should keep toxic people in our lives, or that you should keep that “team building 2014” t-shirt from your old job that you never wear anymore. You can and should get rid of those things.
At the same time, you should be aware that when anything - or anyone - leaves, that something is lost. The things that are part of our lives are in a very real way a part of us. They are a part of how we see, process, and navigate the world. When we set them free, we set part of ourselves adrift. Even if the choice has to be made, it is not bloodless. We have to be prepared for all the consequences, or at least be prepared to face the fact that there will be consequences coming that we aren’t ready for.
I am a better person for having given up basketball. There are times I think about going back. Finding some “over 50” league somewhere, joining a team, getting run or two. But the passion that once burned for the game is gone. I don’t NEED it anymore. I love my life and the people in it. My family. My friends. I don’t need to hide in plain view anymore.
I still shoot around at the Y sometimes. The light still lights up when the ball goes in. It’s just not the only light anymore.
I am lucky. I gained more than I ever lost.
May it ever be so.
I loved watching you play basketball. It was definitely uncomfortable at times, but you did love the game.