This is about truth. This is about choice. This is about life before death…This is Water.

In a commencement address in 2005, David Foster Wallace told the graduates of Kenyon College that they were about to face a life of boredom, routine, and petty frustration. He said, “The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what ‘day in day out’ really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. [One of these is that] the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace (Photo credit: Steve Rhodes)

He then explains that the real value of their education is not in teaching them to think,
but in teaching them how to think, by providing them the ability to make a choice about what they think, and when they think it. He continues:

But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“This is water.”

I could go on about this, but I could never do it the justice that the author did, so I will merely provide the following and encourage you– as strongly as possible– to watch it and then read the transcript. I’m telling you, truer words may have never been spoken and few commencement addresses provide as much real world advice to graduates. This should be required reading in colleges throughout the country.

Video: This is Water

A note about the author: David Foster Wallace was an award-winning American novelist, short story writer and essayist (as demonstrated with applomb by “This is Water.” His second novel, Infinite Jest, was cited as one of the 100 best novels from 1923-2005 by Time magazine. 

Sadly, he suffered greatly from depression and hung himself in 2008, at the age of 46.

 

 

“You’ve just been pep-talked!”

Kid President's Awesome YearEveryone needs a little pep talk now and then. Here’s yours for today, presented by Kid President, a kid with wisdom beyond his years. His primary message: “You were made to be awesome. Now get out there and get to it.”

I suggest you watch it. Bookmark it. Then come back tomorrow and watch it again.

Some pearls of wisdom in there, including these:

The world needs you; stop being boring. Boring is easy, everybody can be boring. But you’re gooder than that.

This is life, people! You got air coming through your nose! You got a heartbeat! That means it’s time to do something!

A poem: “Two roads diverged in the woods. And I took the road less traveled. AND IT HURT, MAN!” Really bad! Rocks! Thorns! Glass! My pants broke! NOT COOL ROBERT FROST!

But what if there really were two paths? I want to be on the one that leads to awesome.

It’s like that dude Journey said: ‘Don’t stop believing. Unless your dream is stupid. Then you should bet a better dream.’ I think that’s how it goes. Get a better dream, then keep goin’, keep goin’, and keep goin’.

What if Michael Jordan had quit? Well, he did quit. But he retired, yeah that’s it, he retired. But before that? In high school? What if he quit when he didn’t make the team? he would have never made Space Jam. (And I love Space Jam.)

What will be your Space Jam? What will you create when you make the world awesome? Nothing if you keep sitting’ there! This is why I’m talking to you today!

This is your time! This is my time! This is our time! We can make every day better for each other.

If we’re all on the same team, let’s start acting like it. We’ve got work to do. We can cry about it, or we can dance about it.

You were made to be awesome. Let’s get out there!

I don’t know everything, I’m just a kid. But I do know this: It’s everyone’s duty to give the world a reason to dance. So get to it.

You’ve just been pep-talked!

This is exactly how I feel about what the team is doing here at Rare Bird. These guys are creating awesome every day, often without any fanfare and definitely not enough dancing. So kudos to you, Birds. Now get back out there and get to it!

(Note: Kid President dedicated this pep talk to Gabbi, “who is fighting cancer. Like a boss!” This kid is awesome. Here’s a little more background info on Robby, aka Kid President.)

The Blizzard of 2012, a House Full of Kids, and No Coffee

2012-blizzardI woke up this morning to the Blizzard of 2012 and a post-Christmas-merriment hangover and realized I couldn’t make coffee. I had whole coffee beans, but our coffee grinder has disappeared. I stood for several minutes looking out the door at the truck that was already covered with several inches of snow and watched as more continued to come down. Near white-out conditions pushed waves of snow left, and then moments later, right. I watched and wondered just how bad the roads could be. I did the math, calculating the odds of returning home alive and weighing them against spending an entire day at home, in a blizzard, with a full house, without coffee.

I decided I’d better try.

In the basement, looking for my snow boots… I knew they were just right here a few days ago, but for the life of me (and the clutter from present-stashing), I couldn’t find them. I slipped on something that passes for a boot without being waterproof or even very warm. Then I went looking for gloves and had a similar experience. I found one brown and one black. Close enough.

I knew my car wouldn’t make the trip, but I also knew where my snow scraper was in there, so I brushed the snow off one side, slipped in, grabbed the tool and turned to the truck. Twenty minutes later, covered in snow (I forgot a hat!), I had it clear enough to see out the windows. I quickly learned it didn’t matter much, because I couldn’t see more than five feet beyond. Again, I stopped to consider the importance of this trip and wondered if I could get there and back before Char realized what I was doing and scolded me for being… well, stupid. And again, coffee won out.

On the road, I was surprised by both the conditions (much worse than my driveway) and the number of like-minded idiots that were also out doing silly things (many more than I anticipated.) I began to wonder if I’d be able to find any place that was open…strike that:  Everything was open. There were people at Walgreen’s and CVS and in line at the Steak-n-Shake drive-through. Each of them, no doubt, doing similar calculations as me and arriving at similar conclusions: Yes, this medicine is more important. I couldn’t imagine what the Steak-n-Shake folks were thinking.

I arrived at Starbucks in the nick of time: they were only minutes from chucking in the towel and going home. They graciously ground my coffee, I bid them farewell, and went back into the muck.

The wind was generally blowing north to south, so the trip home was better. I only lost traction a hair under fourteen times in half a mile, so I was feeling increasingly confident with my decision.

I walked in the door and Lily asked, “How did it go?” I raised my hands above my head, snow sloughing off as I moved, and said: “All hail the conquering hero! I have returned with the spoils of war!” (or something like that.) In the kitchen, I set the bag of coffee down and reached for a coffee filter…

No coffee filters.

A Tale of Two Teams, Two Coaches, and One Missed Opportunity

Coach Jeff Traylor with Marshall working with Marshall players

Marshall softball players Antanai Coleman, left, and Taylor Stigger try on catching gear with the help of Roncalli junior varsity coach Jeff Traylor in the spring of 2010. (Photo: IndyStar.com)

By now, you’ve likely heard of the girls’ basketball game played Tuesday night between Bloomington South and Arlington here in Indianapolis. By the final buzzer, the score was 107-2 in favor of Bloomington South and, in my opinion, a great opportunity was lost.

First, I should point out that I love winning. I think it’s great, as well as one of primarily objectives of playing a sport. But it’s not the only objective, and probably not the most important. There’s sportsmanship. Being part of a team. Learning to work together and depend on each other. Building confidence and acumen. All of these are more important than winning. I think all of these faded into oblivion on Tuesday when one coach’s desire to win trumped everything else.

So on Tuesday night, when it became glaringly apparent that the game was going to be a rout, what should the coaches have done? Specifically, what should Larry Winters, the Bloomington South coach have done? In his own defense, Winters has said that he wasn’t trying to run up the score. Winters told Nat Newell of The Indianapolis Star, “I didn’t tell my girls to stop shooting because that would have been more embarrassing [to Arlington]. We were not trying to embarrass them.” Well, you missed the mark on that one, Coach.

When I heard this story, I was immediately reminded of what happened back in  2010 when the Marshall softball team showed up to play Roncalli High School in a junior varsity game. Rick Reilly, in reporting for ESPN, described the scene:

After an inning and a half, Roncalli was womanhandling inner-city Marshall Community. Marshall pitchers had already walked nine Roncalli batters. The game could’ve been 50-0 with no problem.

Yes, a team that hadn’t lost a game in 2½ years, a team that was going to win in a landslide purposely offered to declare defeat. Why? Because Roncalli wanted to spend the two hours teaching the Marshall girls how to get better, not how to get humiliated.

It’s no wonder. This was the first softball game in Marshall history. A middle school trying to move up to include grades 6 through 12, Marshall showed up to the game with five balls, two bats, no helmets, no sliding pads, no cleats, 16 players who’d never played before, and a coach who’d never even seen a game.

One Marshall player asked, “Which one is first base?” Another: “How do I hold this bat?” They didn’t know where to stand in the batter’s box. Their coaches had to be shown where the first- and third-base coaching boxes were.

At this point, Roncalli coach Jeff Traylor (a great guy from a great family), offered to forfeit. Reilly continues:

Yes, a team that hadn’t lost a game in 2½ years, a team that was going to win in a landslide purposely offered to declare defeat. Why? Because Roncalli wanted to spend the two hours teaching the Marshall girls how to get better, not how to get humiliated.

“The Marshall players did NOT want to quit,” wrote Roncalli JV coach Jeff Traylor, in recalling the incident. “They were willing to lose 100 to 0 if it meant they finished their first game.” But the Marshall players finally decided if Roncalli was willing to forfeit for them, they should do it for themselves. They decided that maybe — this one time — losing was actually winning.

This is certainly unusual and it’s a great outcome. But it’s not the end of the story:

That’s about when the weirdest scene broke out all over the field: Roncalli kids teaching Marshall kids the right batting stance, throwing them soft-toss in the outfield, teaching them how to play catch. They showed them how to put on catching gear, how to pitch, and how to run the bases. Even the umps stuck around to watch.

“One at a time the Marshall girls would come in to hit off of the [Roncalli] pitchers,” Traylor recalled. “As they hit the ball their faces LIT UP! They were high fiving and hugging the girls from Roncalli, thanking them for teaching to them the game.”

In the midst of all of the talk about sportsmanship being dead, take a moment to go to ESPN and read the whole article. I promise you’ll feel better.

Still, this leaves us in a bit of a quandary with Arlington. By losing to Bloomington South by 105 points, what lessons were learned? Sportsmanship? Team work? Compassion? Predictably, the pundits are weighing in none-too-kindly on Coach Winters, and you can add my name to their ranks. He certainly misjudged the situation and missed an opportunity, but I don’t think it’s enough for us to just point our fingers, place some blame and move on.

On the other hand, I don’t think we should work to change the game, either. A “mercy rule” doesn’t exist in basketball and probably shouldn’t. We’ve all seen teams come back from huge deficits to win.

But here’s a thought… In a town where we have these two polar opposite examples of how to behave for the good of the sport and the kids involved, I’m wondering if we can’t use this as an opportunity to raise these Arlington kids up. In a town where our Indiana Fever just won the WNBA Championship, I’m wondering if there might be an opportunity for those players to adopt this Arlington team. Can some personal attention, some coaching, some hard-won wisdom by some of the game’s greats (Tamika Catchings, Katie Douglas, Tammy Sutton-Brown, Jessica Davenport…) end a 22-game losing streak? Maybe. Maybe not.

But winning isn’t everything, and a little personal attention and mentoring is just what this team needs right now.