I’ve told you before that I’m looking for something in the ordinary, and that when I find it, I’ll tell you about it. I’ve told you that it’s the purpose of this blog: to point out the power in the little things. The flashes of brilliance amidst the thrum of the everyday. Those small things done with great love, as Mother Theresa said. Seeing the sacred in the profane, and on and on. I know you’ve heard it before, and I’d being lying if I said I didn’t profess the concept because it’s oh so poetic, so simple. Just speaking the words makes the air around them seem special. Perhaps if we tell ourselves that it’s true, we’ll believe it.
But today, I’ve got a confession to make. I’ve got to tell you that it sometimes feels impossible to practice what I preach. Even though I’ll tell you with every inch of honesty that I believe that we can see God’s beauty in the grind of the everyday, in the grains of dirt under our fingernails, I’m a slave to the idea that He will grant me grandeur. I’ll go to great lengths to defend the dignity of those doing small things with great humility, but if I’m the one grinding, I refuse to the see the beauty in the grains.
But this isn’t the place to tell you about my groveling. I’d bore you very quickly if I hopped on that train. Let’s just say that since graduating from college, I’ve become keenly aware of my bent toward delusions of grandeur, and we’ll just leave it at that. There. Context.
Now, I’m not exactly sure what you do when you’re unsatisfied with your circumstances, but what I do is really quite simple: I go outside and charge as hard and fast on my janky single-speed as humanly possible, with the hope that the swell of endorphins and aesthetic stimuli slipping through my peripherals will eventually create some rapturous crescendo of contentment. As if the remedy to every existential ailment is a healthy dose of adrenaline and pretty trees. And even though I usually come back from these spontaneous and montage-worthy rides feeling just as confused as when I started, there have been enough clarity inducing ones to keep me on the saddle with my expectations high.
But when I went for a ride in the early evening this past week, I didn’t reach the contentment crescendo. I rode for about 10 miles as the sun crept towards the horizon, trying with every poetic bone in my body to love the golden light spreading over everything, to love the breeze, the gentle sway in the trees. I was trying to listen.
But all I heard was a voice saying I should be doing something else. The voice that says that grown men without jobs shouldn’t go on bike rides at sunset. Among the many nay-saying voices I’ve learned to silence, this is one that showed up for the first time this summer, when the purpose that was academia concluded, and my next one seemed intent on staying hidden. It’s a voice that preys on unmet expectations and points at them, saying, This is not what you imagined. Unemployed and at home, riding your bike to pass the time. Waiting.
It’s a voice that’s rooted in reality, but only survives because it feeds on fear.
And I’ve dealt with it long enough to know it’s false, so I told it to shut up and kept on riding into my neighborhood. I slowed my pace to enjoy the day’s last light, studying the houses along the street I’d gone down a million times. It was about that time when most people were inside with their families around the kitchen table, after most fathers returned from their long commutes from the city.
For a while I was the only one outside, pedaling slowly down the middle of the road. And while it wasn’t surprising to hear the bounce of a basketball on a concrete driveway as I rode along, it was a bit strange to see who was shooting around as I got closer. He had clearly just returned from work; a dad, still in a pressed, blue dress shirt, shiny black loafers on his feet. Not that abnormal, really.
But as I got closer, I realized that he wasn’t just shooting around. He was balling. By himself. In dress clothes at sunset. All by his lonesome.
I slowed my pace to study him.
He brought the ball to what would have been the top of the key, lowered his shoulder. He gave a pump fake left, one slow dribble right, then crossed over, hard. Allen Iverson in business slacks, head-faking no one but his own shadow. As I got closer I could hear his breathing: quick, frenetic bursts of wind as he shook his shoulders.
I brought my bike to a complete stop.
He jab-stepped towards the hoop like he was going to drive, then went between the legs and pulled up. He leapt as his momentum pushed him slightly backward, fading away. He stretched upwards, poised to shoot, and released.
I knew that he sunk it before it even left his hand. It was the only way. The net swiffed as the ball sunk through it, and he fist-pumped hard like Jordan when he beat the Cavs, his triumphant YEAH! echoing off the garage doors.
I was stock-still in the middle of the street, mesmerized. I’m sure my jaw was gaping. I watched him drain three more shots from a decent range, each one preceded by its own unique choreography of crossovers and pivots against a phantom squad. And after every shot he sunk, the fist pump. Glory.
He was in another world. No suburbs. No highways. No guy on a bike watching him from afar. One where time does not exist; just the trinitarian space between man, ball, and hoop.
I was too mesmerized in that moment to articulate anything resembling a cohesive thought, and this is the first time I’ve really tried to work out what exactly was so amazing about it.
And I’ve decided that it was amazing because he was exactly where I couldn’t seem to go. He was lost. He was draped in the very uniform that signified his social responsibility, his status as an accomplished father, husband, businessman, American; and yet, he was playing like his life depended on it.
He was utterly immersed in the job at hand: Fake left—Cross Over—Drive—Pull up—Shoot the J—Dance.
Today, I hear a different voice. It accompanies the image of that man out there shooting, and it says something like this: If only we could learn to get lost in it, we might learn that there’s joy in the job at hand.