My eldest son loves basketball like his pops. He’s had an uphill battle thus far, though, because, like his father, he's a late bloomer. He has almost universally been the smallest, thinnest kid on the court, and basketball is not a small man’s game.
But, he’s worked and worked, and through the years he’s developed a pretty reliable jump shot, and this keeps him in the hunt.
During our recent forced attempt at distance learning (I really missed seeing my students each day), I would conduct my classes from my basement office. This required me to block out the constant thundering herd of buffalo (my four sons) that was stampeding on the other side of my ceiling.
Another weird thing was happening. Every so often I would hear the voice of a grown man in the room above. I would think, hmm, do we have some kind of repairman here? I would sit still and listen – wow, it sounded oddly like my own voice, bellowing and deep. Then it would dawn on me that it was voice of my boy, my first baby, Noah.
He now has the voice of a man. Suddenly, it seems.
I am sad for this precious boy. Adolescents want nothing so much as to spread their wings, to leave the nest and find their strength. Our son, like so many other boys and girls becoming young men and women, has been quarantined with their "boring" parents and "annoying" siblings. They can’t see their friends. They feel caged, and this breeds some aggressive behavior.
So, this morning, my wife and I had a conversation with Noah about the benefits of a strong voice. I love to sing, and have done so many times before audiences big and small. When I control my voice just right, I can jovially subdue a classroom of radiant and unruly children in an instant. If I want to, I can induce real fear with my voice. It is powerful, and for this I am grateful. It has made certain parts of my life more rewarding and more productive.
Yet, such raw vocal power can also be harmful. Regretfully, there are a number of people I’ve harmed with the power and tone of my voice. I am so very sorry. My son, a captive fourteen year old who’s just had his voice drop an octave and round out like a bass drum, has not yet found control of his song, and in such close quarters, this can be trying.
Noah’s school load was heavy (a bright kid-he was an 8th grader in classes with 9th and 10th graders) and he was almost constantly at a desk these last three months. This means he wasn’t in front of a hoop as much as he should have been, and particularly while he was growing several inches and putting on twenty pounds. He’s stronger now, but it’s got his shot out of whack.
This past year my school basketball team was very good, nearly perfect. A great part of that success was due to size. I had several kids that grew, a lot. Two of my 8th graders were my height (6’1). Yet, part of their success was how tenaciously they worked through the awkwardness of their growth. They were able to find the way to new strength and new advantages, while they changed.
We are all going through something dramatic. It is ongoing. Very few of us have experienced anything quite like this before. Some of our old ways and comforts have gone, perhaps for good. We are being changed, and that can be extremely awkward, even painful. We are being compelled to learn new things, new ways.
If my son learns to control his voice, then he will know power. If he does not, he will bring pain. If he works on his hoops game while he grows, he will have a great chance to harness his potential. If he does not, then the hunt to play competitively will diminish.
Here is a moment, for all of us, of transition. Will we grow, be transformed into light and strength, or will we petrify and wither?
My first planting of vegetables was a fail. They froze and died. Yesterday, I saw these plump green arrivals from my second planting, the first fruits of something new and vibrant.
Father’s day was two days ago, and I was without my pops. Those days always make me wonder if I’m becoming all I need to be. Maybe you know the feeling.
If you have been deteriorating or perhaps stagnating during this trial, there is good news. You may be stumbling through, awkwardly trying to understand what you are to be. Press on, friend. You may yet learn how to fly.
Many of my friends have been posting “facts.”
We all deeply long for certainties, especially when we want comfort, protection from uncertainties, and expressly when those worries are about our own deeply held but fearful frailties and perhaps, guilt.
This is my twenty-second year of teaching. Wow, does that make me feel old, but nevertheless, it’s true. I’m a grizzled veteran in the teaching profession. And one of the things all us old-timer teachers have experienced is a never-ending cycle of new-fangled and “data-driven” silver bullets.
(Incidentally, I come from a family of teachers – my parents were both teachers; so was my 100+ MaMa – they all echo this reality – it is old).
And while it is true that some specialists, book authors, administrators, state education bureaucrats and standardized test creating CEOs swear by the conclusiveness of their “facts”, most teachers recognize in their souls and behold in the eyes of their individual young students that such concrete boxes fail to provide any foregone conclusions.
I’m working, ever so slowly, on the outline of a book on teaching. Its working title is “Don’t Forget They Have Souls: The Inadequacy of Data-Driven Education.” Lord willing, I’ll finish my rebuttal against the Standardized Testing Industrial Complex.
The reliance on data infiltrates every part of our lives, even entertainment. How about this - ask a Philadelphia Eagles or Phillies fan what they think about the data-driven coaching of Chip Kelly or Gabe Kapler. (Good luck, SoCal)
Atheists and other anti-believers hold fast to science and its facts, and regard faith as foolishness.
All of you out there who hold to some kind of faith are simpletons, they say. Blind, because you don’t have the facts. You cannot prove in a universal way (of course we all have personal anecdotes) that your faith system is real, beyond the shadow of a doubt.
The scribes and teachers of the law that encountered Jesus were able to site their facts, too. They called him false Messiah, because his actions defied their understanding (facts?) of scripture.
Today, religious fundamentalists tell us we must act a certain way, speak a certain way, must engage in some activities and must refrain from others. If not, we have no place in the Kingdom of Heaven. They have their facts, too.
Doubt is scary.
Variables, unknowns, left-outs (sometimes those who compile data have something to hide) – there is a lot that goes into a complete picture. I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever have an exact understanding of anything at all during my lifetime.
So, when we see mass mourning and protest (some of it violent/I believe the majority of the violence is that of opportunists and criminals using the protest as cover) about a cycle of destruction that traces its roots to the 1600s-a cycle of systematic degradation of enslaved people become freedmen become segregated and second-class-and-barely citizens who could be lynched at the whim of local and powerful racist leaders, who had to become peaceful marchers beaten and attacked by dogs and sprayed with fire hoses and teargas, who finally became theoretically integrated but still barred from the boardroom people, who at last got to send forth a token, but only if he (and much later she) would say and champion agreed upon topics, become in recent years tolerated folk, and when we finally see almost every single blessed black brother and sister that we know speak in unity and sorrow, it fills us with dread, because our souls know something heavy and desolate has gone down here in America.
So, some of us start searching for “facts” we can use to obscure and minimize the pain in the other, certainly, but also, in our own souls. We are, indeed, one human race. We are all God’s children. And when any child of God suffers, I believe the Lord grieves.
We should, too.
"Examine all things; hold on to the good."
-Saint Paul the Apostle