Problems, Mysteries, Shakespeare, Fitness, Tongues and More

I am always amazed to watch, perhaps almost like an observer from across the room, how my workshops morph into both bigger principles and more subtle insights. I know this sounds like I am patting my own back, but it is something I have watched over and over. That’s why you might often see me taking notes after a talk: I didn’t know that point either until it came out of my mouth!

Look, I think teaching is a gift. I have seen really nice, wonderful, caring people try to teach without the gift. Folks, it is painful to watch. I can walk in, take the same material, and let the words and images take flight. Theseus, the character in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” says it best:

“The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.”

Good teaching puts a form, a body, in the imagination. It turns “airy nothing” into something. Good teaching sparks action, too.

It was a strange odyssey to get here. As a child, I had to take these “extra” classes at Saint Veronica’s to help me with my speech. When I was four or so, my brother, Philip, “accidently” dropped a chair on my head. That’s when I severed my tongue and it grew again. Yes, I can touch my tongue to my nose and much more. With that newfound larger tongue, I found speaking to be an issue and it slowly seemed to get worse.

This isn’t a religion blog, but I honestly feel I was given the gift of teaching at my Confirmation in the ninth grade. Agree or disagree with the point, but from that day on, I could point people in the right direction and walk with them on the path to success in the classroom and sports. I went from the “quiet kid who didn’t talk” to, well, the motor mouth.

Which brings us to this point: I was giving a talk to a fine group of people when the issue of the “mystery” of fat loss was raised. “Mystery?” I thought. No, it’s a problem. When I answered the question, I went back to one of my basic principles that I believe I have addressed before in other sources. Enjoy.

A few years ago, at a workshop on “Death and Dying,” the speaker told us that to “survive” a doctor’s prognosis of a terminal disease, one should adopt a “baseball mentality.” The concept was simple: baseball has no time limit. Even with two outs, no matter the score, the team at bat always has a chance to win. The speaker basically told us, a group of local ministers and teachers, that the dying need to be told that they can still be in the game.

Of course, one of the things that I repeat to myself on a daily basis is that we are all literally dying. As I look back over my teaching career, I am always a little amazed at the number of students, parents, and fellow teachers who have died too soon, if you will. Unlike the game of baseball, we never know what inning we are in.

I guess we need to contrast the baseball mentality with the football mentality. As a former football coach, I can tell you that there is nothing like a bad fourth quarter when you stand on either side of a blow out. Whether ahead or behind by a lot of points, the fourth quarter seems to drag on forever as both coaches empty the benches and wait for time to run out. Sadly, football only ends with 0:00. I guess we could use this a way to see life in a rather utilitarian way, or zero sum manner, where we tabulate the person’s score at the funeral and determine whether or not they won or lost. I don’t think this is a good idea either, for the record.

But, there are times when life is like a football game. My senior year in college, I missed graduation to compete at the Nationals at the University of
Illinois. While my class got their diplomas, I threw the discus. The following week, I arrived back at school to an empty, deserted campus.

There were no hugs, no toasts, no “let’s get togethers” when I packed my suitcase and headed for home. The clock ticked down to zero for me. For athletes preparing for the Olympics, life is a football mentality. I would even say that expectant parents also experience this feeling in the last few days and weeks of a pregnancy. I know that I have heard at least one woman say: “let’s just get this over with!”

And, I am not naming names!

And, there are times when life is like a baseball game. In the education business, we always hope that young man or young woman who keeps finding new ways to get into trouble will finally turn it around and succeed in, please, something. As a parent, we might keep exposing our children to various careers and life decisions as we keep hoping our kids will hit that home run and find success. But, to be honest, I always struggled with the baseball mentality.

The baseball mentality assumes that we have a chance to “win.” That is just not the way life works for most of us. I refuse to say that death is a win-lose proposition, but I also know that life often gives us a whole new set of challenges where it is nearly impossible to call something a win or loss. I realized this the one day during the Shamrock Highland Games in Springfield, Illinois. In the Arctic conditions of morning (okay, it was just cold), I couldn’t get going. Some people will recognize the term “going.” It’s that feeling when you get into the flow of things. If you have ever tried to get the kids, the car, the luggage and the refreshments all ready for a multi-day trip, you know how hard it is to get “going.” That’s how I felt: I was trying to compete with the kids tied down to the roof, the drinks in the back seat, and the dog and cat in the trunk.

Every event seemed to just go wrong. If you don’t know about Highland Games Heavy Events, it is a day filled with seven or more events from a heavy stone to the caber toss. Yes, the telephone pole toss. I used to correct people over and over again, but you have all defeated me. Yet, I would tell myself after each to have to be positive because I have another event. Like a bad golfer hoping to shine on the next hole, I kept my head up and walked to the next event. A golfer who triple bogies the whole day, yet finishes with a hole in one will provide drinks for everyone and never remember his final score, only that one great hole.

This image of the Golfer or the Highland Gamer began to carry me from event to event. Finally, on the last event of the day, I knew I was running low on chances. It was my worst event, the Heavy Hammer. Yet, I just reminded myself of the rhythm of the hammer head and stayed in there mentally. It was my only win of the day and helped propel Clint Garda, a friend of mine, to win the overall by changing the point scheme.

As I was helping Mike Rosenberg drink his Scotch, I thought about how important a “bad memory” can be for an athlete. As my memory became foggier from the excellent Whisky, I realized that the Highland Game mentality might be a better way to approach life. Sure, embrace each new challenge and do your best, but, when the “dealing is done,” walk bravely over to the next great challenge. Try not to judge a competition, a year or even a lifetime on one meet, one series, one throw or one event.

“Keep your head up and walk to the next event” probably won’t translate to every person in every situation, but as we embrace this walk through life, what better way to deal with the challenges before us? If there is anything to be learned in discussing the art of lifelong fitness it is this: how can use your brilliant mind to enable your body to live as long as you can as well as you can?

That’s the problem. But, read this carefully, it is not a mystery!

Sherlock Holmes was a master problem solver. Problems can be solved, given enough time, enough energy, and enough resources. Losing one’s keys in the kitchen garbage can is a problem. Even if the keys end up at the City Dump, given enough resources, the keys can be found. It might not be worth finding the keys, but they could still be found with enough time, energy and money.

Mysteries may never be solved. “Somebody loves you.” Why? Well, we can believe this, chat about this, study this, agree to this, worship this, but will we ever fully understand the concept of love?

The lifelong internal struggle with trying to understand the mysteries of faith, hope, love, death and the afterlife is the engine, the driving force that keeps people returning to religious education. Why even ask the great theological questions? Instead, ask about those more common mysteries, why do I love this person or that person and, perhaps more interesting, why do they love me? Sure, we can make lists but these lists seen woefully inadequate. Would someone want to show their spouse the list?

Mystery is core to a believer and that can be a difficulty for a nonbeliever or for someone who simply believes something else. But, problems are different.

The problem of attaining lifelong fitness can be solved. Literally millions of others have left clues for you to follow along with Doctor Watson and faithful Toby, the pride of scent dogs everywhere. It’s a problem that Sherlock Holmes doesn’t need to be consulted. It’s simple.

However, like what John Powell, former world record holder in the discus throw, said about his event: “I said it was simple, not easy.

The “secrets” to lifelong fitness are simple. Not easy.

It comes down to Managing Choices. It comes down to simple lists and simple tools. It comes down to a simple diet and a simple exercise program.

And, you know this. I am trying to embody your imagination to believe this, but I can only teach so much, there comes a time where you need to do what you know you need to do.

The “secrets” to lifelong fitness are simple. Not easy.

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