The Bounce Pass

“Ladies, never ever underestimate the power of the bounce pass.”

How often I have recalled the ten words that Coach stressed to our team moments before we took the court on that snowy December day.

We played in a rag-tag grade school athletic league. Me and six of my closest fifth grade school mates – with all seven of our young fathers standing right behind us – dreamed of becoming the Catholic Youth Council City/County Basketball champs – which at the time was the equivalent of earning a gold medal for the USA Olympic Team, playing in the NCAA March Madness Final Four, and winning the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes all in one.

This was the 1960s.  Sporting activities for women – basketball and/or otherwise – were just starting to come into their own.  The powers to be had been forced to organize a league for us girls, with games played at any time the boys weren’t using a nearby gym.  The good news is that we had gym time for games, but we were out of luck in terms of using an indoor facility for practice.

But being young, budding athletes, who, by-the-way, had little to no basketball experience whatsoever, we cared little about what we lacked (gym time, experience, or otherwise) and more about what we were going to be learning.  So our pops did a little organizing for us, found a suitable outdoor court, identified the one dad who had more than just a little hoop experience, and set us on the course towards the City/County Championship.

Coach quickly recognized that some of us – well nearly all of us – needed to learn a little more – well a lot more – about the artful game of basketball before we ever played a real game.   We would form a circle around him, and he would toss the ball to each of us.  Regardless of whether we tossed it back correctly, incorrectly, or not at all, he would compliment us on our action.  “Great job” were two words that seemed to flow out of his mouth easily.

And because we were basketball newbies, hearing those words helped.  Coach taught us to dribble, to shoot, to rebound, to block out, to dish, to pivot, and to play zone.  We were proud of what we were learning even if it looked like we knew more about double dribbling, fouling, traveling, palming, over-and-back, and violating the key than the afore mentioned list.

Coach didn’t pay too much attention to what we did wrong.  In fact, I can’t remember a time I really did much right, but he gave me the feeling that every pass I made put me closer to becoming Nera White – the most famous basketball player of my time, a 15 year AAU All American and an athletic role model for all young ladies growing up in the 60s.

This new basketball activity seemed to be not just the thrill of the year for me and my BFFs, but also for our dads.  They figured out how to get us matching uniforms, made sure we had enough and the right equipment, created intricate and complex plays for us – in case we ever got to the point of using them, and in general bonded with each other as we, young ladies, were doing.

It was Coach, however, who had us all mesmerized. Though I didn’t know it at the time, he was a little more involved in the world of basketball than the rest of our dads.  He had not only played high school and college basketball, but he had played it well, a member of the 1948 NIT Championship Team.  He knew the rules and the lingo.  He was versed in successful models for offensive and defensive play. He rubbed elbows with local athletic greats.  And he was our coach.

More importantly to me at that time, he was the nice dad who seemed to know how to lead seven sport novices towards the ability to play hoops with pride.  His focus was always on the fundamentals of basketball – and I learned them, one by one.  But, somehow, in some unexplainable way, I seemed to be learning more about honesty, critical thinking, problem solving, and collegiality without Coach ever saying one word about any of those topics- ever.

So on that snowy day in December, we suited up for our very first game.  Moments before the buzzer blasted to start the game, Coach huddled us up for his very last pep talk before we were on our own to make the dream reality.  He leaned in told us that we would be great, and gave us his final instructional mojo.  His eyes wide.  His hands on his hips.  It just rolled off his lips.

“Ladies, never ever underestimate the power of the bounce pass!”

I am sad to say, that I can’t remember if we won or lost the game.  I have no idea whether I played more than a minute or the entire time. I don’t think we made it anywhere near the Catholic Youth Council City/County Championship that year. Maybe we did, and I have forgotten.  It was, however, a most memorable year in a totally different way.

I learned to never ever underestimate the power of the bounce pass.

In this world, it is the two hand push pass that is most commonly used and universally expected.  We receive the ball and hand it off more often than not without a single bounce. We repeat this action over and over, often times routinely and mindlessly. Generally, because it works but not always. Sometimes because it is comfortable.  It’s what we always did before.   That method, however, isn’t always the most powerful, most effective path towards success.

A coach a long time ago told me to consider thinking outside the box.   He told me to act with authority and to think about my ability to control my destiny.  He told me to look up and see the possibilities, think about my options, and choose the path less traveled.  Coach told me to bounce the ball, surprise others, and add a healthy level of wonder into my world.

Ten words to live by.

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I am sure they have never under estimated the power of anything.

I Wore My Shorts Inside Out

I wore my shorts inside out. . . For at least ten minutes. . . While shopping. . . With my daughter. . . On vacation. . . In Florida. . . They were lined Nike running shorts. . . Black. . . With black lining. . . Trimmed in neon yellow.

I had just tried on some clothes in a local beach shop. When I put my shorts back on, I put them on inside out. And I didn’t notice. . . At all.

I walked fifty feet to the cashier, bought a couple items, and exited the store.

I turned to my daughter and said, “My shorts feel a little sideways,” . . . never looking down at them. But she did. Within seconds, we were laughing so hard, our eyes were blurry and our stomach muscles hurt.

I actually wore my shorts inside out for at least ten minutes while shopping with my daughter on vacation in Florida, and didn’t notice.

There is no doubt in my mind that wearing my shorts inside out was one of the goofiest things I have ever done. Somewhere I am sure there is a long list of other crazy funny actions on my part. But this one happened a couple days ago, so it has risen exponentially as my number one memorable moment.

I asked my daughter if she thought anyone else noticed. Her response was: “How could others not?” She suggested checking social media quickly for ‘crazy funny woman with shorts on, lined shorts on, inside out’.

As we were still laughing upon returning to our vacation compound, I willingly shared my faux-pas with the remaining assembled relatives. Wearing lined shorts inside out while shopping. There was no need to embellish the story in any way. It was crazy funny in its short form.

I didn’t have to share the embarrassing moment with my vacation family. It was a choice. My daughter, following a politeness protocol, would have graciously kept the story to herself. But I threw caution to the wind and shared it.

I truly believe that the world is crazy funny more often than not. At any given time, someone somewhere is doing something that is just flat out funny. Most embarrassing moments are hysterical if the owners can overcome the embarrassment.

But it isn’t that simple.

Too often crazy funny moments are transformed into anger, frustration, or fright.

I could have blamed my inside out action on the lack of adequate light in the changing room. Or on the minuscule time I had available to shop. Or on my daughter for not alerting me sooner. The whole event could have been framed in anger with me passing blame towards anyone or anything beyond me.

During the same vacation week, I watched a young boy, a new bike rider, at a speed of less than 1/1000 mile per hour ever so slowly run into my cousin. I saw my college age nephew toss a bocce ball that broke into two as it hit the ground. And my thin and trim brother-in-law sat in three beach chairs, breaking each one, within a three hour period.

Each scenario could have been framed differently.

My cousin could have scolded the bike rider. With acres and acres of beach, it was rather quizzical for him to – at a snail’s pace – hit her. The opposing bocce team could have cried foul as a very competitive game came to a screeching halt when my nephew’s bocce ball split. The tournament was effectively ended. And with a three for three broken beach chair track record, my brother-in-law should have been a little frightened to sit in anything. Bodily injury was a possibility and his cost of sitting on the beach was escalating.

Instead we turned to the crazy funny side.

The little boy hopped off the bike, backed away (slowly) and we chuckled. The bocce players looked at the two half moon pieces, laughed, and went for a swim. My brother-in-law trudged three times to the trash can to dispose of the next broken chair while we howled.

And the inside out shorts?

The next morning as I arrived on the beach, five of the sweetest nieces and cousins suited up in their now favorite inside out shorts, inside out lined shorts, for that one extra belly-busting roller coaster laugh.

All I can say is . . . well framed!

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The Family Dance

For me, it was that incredible memorable family dance moment.

The band was playing what could easily be described as the music of many – the type familiar and beloved by both the young and the old, not too loud and not too slow – music for the ages.

The reception was in full swing. And at that particular moment, I looked around and noticed it immediately: all of us on the dance floor were related. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, sons, daughters, moms, dads, and grandchildren. All of us were happy, laughing, smiling, and . . . dancing.

Admittedly, we could have never described the dance we were dancing as organized.  It wasn’t refined, or symmetrical. It wasn’t pretty, cultured, or structured.  In fact, if analyzed, it was fairly clunky and chunky.  No one had rehearsed, and although the family talents are many, there are no professional dancers in the mix.  Just a group of folks ranging in age from zero to 80+ who were happy, laughing, smiling, and  . . . dancing.

And, of course, it wasn’t dancing in the very traditional sense.  Rather than pairing up in a Fred Astaire / Ginger Rogers type manner, the dance floor resembled more of a brood, a clutch, a gaggle, or a flock of individuals moving at the same tempo, in the same rhythm, using the same motions, to the same music, dancing that potentially awkward and always interesting family dance.

Large gatherings, such as this one happened to be, are not uncommon in my family.  With six siblings at the core plus twenty-one immediate cousins, all family gatherings end up on the large to very large size. Birthdays, graduations, holidays, weddings just turn into big, giant family celebrations. Luckily, in my family, each relative not only seems to know every other relative well enough to dance, but all family members seem to understand each other and have an over-arching acceptance of and pride in all kinds of similarities and differences among the group.

And with family dancing, it is the differences that can and do shine brightly.

At that particular moment, several folks in the teenage set were not only dancing, but singing madly along with the band leader, unabashed and unafraid of displaying their singing (or non-singing) aptitude.

One family member, who could normally be described as quiet and pensive, in a very brave move, having been coaxed to the dance floor by the young but married cousins, displayed some serious dance motion which added a new piece of delight throughout all.

An uncle was arm in arm with a tiny niece, tapping his foot, simultaneously swinging her in step with the beat of the music, while my sister and I held hands over the backs of our respective spouses with whom we were dancing.

As the music reached a crescendo, with bride and groom center stage – the rest of us broadly encircling them – our pop, a less than spry 80+ year old and only remaining grandparent, decided to join the group.  With his walking more of a chore than a pleasure, his participation surprised all of us.  We stared as he edged so gently and carefully towards the middle and watched as the wall of his grandchildren and children parted to accommodate and include him.

He didn’t know it at the time, nor did we, but he was dancing his final family dance.  And it was magical.

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His dance moves were quaint and soulful.  They were deliberate and slow and filled with youthful joy. As he cautiously swayed to the sounds, his family did the same, holding our breath hoping he was successful and hoping the moment wouldn’t end. For as he danced, he exuded an aura that captured a lifetime of happiness in a family dance that he had helped to generate and foster.

Without a doubt, it was a family dance for the ages.

And though usually during the height of a wedding celebration in the middle of a dance floor surrounded by generations of family, it isn’t the moment to capture a serious life lesson.  But, that’s the magic part of it.

It was obvious to me that the family dance was not for a moment about music and movement.  The band may have played and feet may have shuffled, but it was very incidental to the rhythm of the event.  We were throwing away our challenges and our barriers.  We were delighting in the common family bonds that we had cultivated for many years, and we were family dancing.

I don’t necessarily like the following adage.  It seems tired and overused, but it also seems to be true that life isn’t a short sprint, but rather a long, long journey with moments of challenge, of concern, of worry along with moments of joy, hope, and celebration.

I journey with many family members with whom I sometimes disagree, often disappoint, and always seem to need more than I have the ability to help.  But with enough time and with lots of concerted effort, I am hoping that my journey can include that one last magical moment, that perfect storm, that extraordinary symbiosis, the family dance.

I just have to plan ahead and work hard.  I say bring it on!

 

A Man of Few Words

Recently, my little brother, Rich, and I entered into an interesting partnership.  And during the time we were considering whether to do so, both Rich and I consulted with our father. And in comparing notes, my brother and I found that we were both asked the same questions:

“Do you trust him?” my father asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Do you love him?”

“Yes,” I replied again.

“Then do it,” he said, “Everything else will work out fine.”

In this conversation, my dad was brief and to the point. If the time elapsed was more than one minute, I will be shocked.  My pop only had two questions – one about trust and the other about love.  Never having been a man of many words and certainly never having been a touchy-feeling type guy, he assumed that the two question eight-word piece of advice was enough and it would be all that I would need.  And odd as it may sound, it was.

But it was only odd to me. Clearly, it was not odd to him.  For, as I sat next to my dad listening to those two questions and watching him deliver that very brief message, it became strangely clear that this wasn’t the only time that he had used this advice.

Throughout the next several weeks, as my brother and I cinched our partnership (keeping our dad apprised of the smaller subsequent decisions and choices we were making), my dad began opening up about the times that those two poignant questions guided him.

Should he marry my mother – the love of his life – and the love of ours? Yes.  Should he take a risk and move his family to a great new frontier called Florissant? Yes.  Should he listen to the advice from his father and take a job with a company formerly called Union Electric – now Ameren UE?  Yes.  Should he, himself, enter into all types of adventures and mis-adventures with his own brother, Bud – his dearest and lifelong best friend? Yes.

With love in his back pocket and trust at his side, he had no fear of his decisions.  He just didn’t. He still doesn’t. The outcome of his decisions may not always have been as planned, may not always have been perfect, and may have led down new and unexpected paths, but with love and trust, he always felt that his decisions were . . . correct . . . right . . . just.  Where some may have fear, he had confidence.  And at the moment he was asking me his two greatest questions, he wanted me to be confident, to have no fear.

When my father asked me if I trusted my brother, he made the term . . . the idea . . . seem so simple. He didn’t want frivolous conversation from me.  He didn’t want a lengthy discussion on trust, the origins of trust, and the positive benefits of trust.  He wasn’t planning on spending hours and days introducing the concept of trust and pondering its definition with me.  He wanted me to answer his question with a brief but confident yes or no.  He really didn’t want me to discuss the degree to which I trusted my brother or any reasons why I should or should not trust him or the dangers of doing so.  In fact, I think he was hoping that I wouldn’t speak, rather simply move my head yes or no – preferably yes, which I did.

When he asked me if I loved my baby brother, the same premise applied.  Yes or no.  Did I love him?  My pop didn’t want to know the details that could have been attached to that question.  He didn’t want to know any challenges surrounding it.  In fact, I think that had I begun some type of discussion when my pop asked that question, he may have given me the awe-inspiring, dad-blaster ‘no time for talking’ look – the look that fathers use to pretty much stop space and time – in order to refocus me.  He just wanted me to give him that one word answer, again with confidence – which was yes.

In less than one minute, with eight words in two questions, my pop did it again.  It was masterful advice in the blink of an eye.  He didn’t say it this way, but I definitely heard: Trust those you love . . . and love those you trust . . . everything beyond will fall in place.

His confidence in knowing that if I had trust and if I had love, then I should have no fear was moving.  And my dad has been right.  My brother and I are having the time of our lives – and couldn’t be happier with our decision.

I know that I, like my father, will keep those two questions handy.  And as I face complicated, challenging decisions in the future, I know that – like him – I will hope that those eight words give me the same type of guidance that they have done for my dad.

But I do have to chuckle.How in the world am I ever going to meet that standard!  Heck, 1000 words isn’t always enough for me to convey whatever it is that I want to convey. Well . . . at least I have a target!

Dad

Dad

How To Make Memories With 47,399 People

When I reflect on that moment, I have to admit it was one of the best of my short life.  It was so exhilarating, it is almost indescribable.  And unbelievable as it may sound, though it has almost been a year ago, rarely does a week pass without someone mentioning something about it to me or my daughter.

Heather, my daughter, is my youngest child and only girl.  At 28, she is slight of build, tall in stature and is as even-tempered as her father.  I am lucky as she and I pal around quite a bit together.  And oddly enough, the reason for being together on October 28th, 2011 was due to a very chance circumstance.  But it happened and we were.

The men in our lives were all left behind.  My son hadn’t been feeling well, and my spouse graciously agreed to stay home as caretaker.  He offered his spot to my daughter, and she smartly took it.  So we were off – together – on another adventure of a lifetime.

As happens in most families, she and I have actually shared many mother / daughter lifetime adventures – in all kinds of shapes and sizes from international travel to half marathons, from home building projects to weekends away.   But this event was different.

As we headed out – with all the amenities two people might need including food, clothes, cash, and cameras – my mind could hear a phrase often spoken by a dear aunt of mine who has just enough of a southern drawl to bring out the wisdom of such simple words:  “Nothing more important than making memories.”

Two hours later, we arrived at our destination.  We found a makeshift parking space, abandoned our car, and entered the thick of things.  Downtown traffic was at a standstill.   Banners were strung from every skyscraper and pump-me-up music was blaring on every corner.  Two gentlemen – sans shirts – with their chests painted bright red – strolled by us, singing a rather poor rendition of the national anthem.

Yet, because of the atmosphere, they were nothing shy of adorable – and for this occasion – very typical.  For at that moment, a total of 47,399 individuals were headed towards the gates of a previously empty stadium – each person intent on making their own memories.

Our seats were high-in-the-sky, in what folks might fondly call the nose-bleed section.   And looking out on the crowd, all we could see was a sea of red – as literally everyone had dressed in the team color for the occasion – (or as witnessed earlier, had painted their bodies accordingly).

The two women in front of us were wearing red wigs made of flashing LED lights.  A couple of rows in front of them sat a family who had brought along an assortment of hand-made posters and were waving them madly.

Before the first pitch was thrown, we had both been asked to take family photos for folks around us and had asked the folks around us to take our photo.  Fans were texting, tweeting, facebooking, and calling everyone who didn’t make it into the stadium.   It could only be described as orderly pandemonium.

Of course, not to be missed was the calm and subdued gentleman at the end of our row.

He happened to be visiting a friend who had an extra ticket.  He came along not knowing what to expect, and found all the frantic madness a little quizzical.  He was seemingly disengaged from the surrounding activity, and spent most of his time checking and re-checking his trusty blackberry . . .so we called him Blackberry Man . . .  really the only odd-duck on the pond.

But, as the game began and time began ticking forward, the excitement within the crowd escalated  – and it escalated exponentially. We stood – shoulder to shoulder – from the first crack of the bat to the last, sitting only during the momentary wee breaks between innings.  We shouted  – loud and long – creating an unrecoilable energy that was all-pervasive.  And we bonded – with the 47,399 people who came to the stadium with the same hopes and desires as the hometown athletes.

My daughter and I were  – in athletic speak – in the zone.  We were on our tiptoes, cheering, shouting, clapping, hugging, laughing. And everyone around us, except for Blackberry Man, was doing the same.  For all of us, it was a time of sheer fun and exhilaration. I was quite sure that the game’s outcome wouldn’t solve any great human mystery.  And I knew that days later, I would still be putting on my shoes one at a time. But, for that one moment, the world around us was in sync.

And I learned that anytime the world around us is in sync, it is truly unbelievable.

For today, I can still hear the collective screaming and I can still feel the collective dancing when the hometown team won. Fireworks blasted.  Confetti fell.  Lights flashed, and the music of champions played.  Strangers hugged each other, with even Blackberry Man faintly smiling.

And I can still  see my daughter’s eyes looking at me with such pure joy.

As we walked out the stadium, still shoulder to shoulder with those 47,399 people who were all still more than just a little exuberant, I knew that my daughter and I had made a great memory, a permanent one.

What I didn’t know is  how that particular memory would change my thinking.

I was once again – and in a big way –  reminded that it is possible for the entire world to be in sync.  Somehow, it is possible for all of us to be happy, for all of us to experience joy.  It might be difficult, but what is worthwhile isn’t usually easy.  All we have to do is wake up our collective sleeping giant and make a memory.

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