In anticipation of next Sunday’s Super Bowl game, I’m going to pass along a football story. However, those who know me well know that I don’t watch much football, so this tale will come via a baseball source, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle as recounted in the book Big Data Baseball. (And if you don’t want advice from a sports figure, just jump to the bottom for a little Tolkien.)
According to the book’s author, Hurdle recounted the following story for his team after a difficult patch of games:
“Tim Wrightman, a former All-American UCLA football player, tells a story about how, as a rookie lineman in the National Football League, he was up against the legendary pass rusher Lawrence Taylor. Taylor was not only physically powerful and uncommonly quick, but a master at verbal intimidation. Looking Tim in the eye, [Taylor] said, “Sonny, get ready. I’m going left and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Wrightman coolly responded, ‘Sir, is that your left or mine?’
The question froze Taylor long enough to allow Wrightman to throw a perfect block on him.
It’s amazing what we can accomplish if we refuse to be afraid. Fear―whether it’s of pain, failure, or rejection―is a toxic emotion that creates monsters in our mind that consume self-confidence and intimidate us from doing our best or sometimes even trying at all.”
In his personal life Clint Hurdle faced alcoholism; rejection in his chosen field as both a player who never met the high expectations others had for him and as a manager who was fired; two failed marriages; and – once he married his third wife – the birth of a child with a genetic disorder. But he kept pushing ahead, ultimately found himself, and achieved success. He dealt with his anxieties through courage. He refused to be afraid.
Anxiety is a part of life, our “primal insecurity.” I read a short essay recently that began, “Most theologians agree that the ‘feel’ of existence is anxiety.” But the way past anxiety is hard, leading the essay’s author to note, “…courage, the only adequate resolution of our primal predicament, is the road less taken. Courage requires a steadfast, honest gaze at the human condition, but we are paralyzed by the thought of doing it alone.” I was thinking of this type of courage yesterday as I watched the marvelous new movie Hidden Figures. No matter the challenge, in the end courage is the only way through anxiety. As J.R.R. Tolkien has written, “A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a shortcut to meet it.”
Advice for these times from a baseball lifer, a theologian, and a fantasy novelist. That’s what is called a mixed bag!
Have a good week. (And in case you were wondering, pitchers and catchers report in 15 days.)
More to come…