Audacity, Self Awareness (& Basketball)

In 7th grade I played intramural basketball.

Being a late bloomer in 90% of human functionality, namely anything which wasn’t purely cognitive and especially anything requiring social skills or awareness, I played basketball like a child.

At 13, I didn’t care who was watching, or if my jersey was lumpy. I didn’t care if the other team  — or my team for that matter — liked me. I followed plays to the letter, but I had no sense of team. I didn’t even care who won.

I came to play ball. I played the game as well as I could, and doggedly, and then I went home.

I was not great by any stretch. But I had a decent shot record and was, more than anything, rather remarkably on a court of early adolescents, willing to take risks.

In my entire league I was the most likely to foul out. Not because I played dirty, but because in a casual Saturday morning tournament of reluctant and not-really-very-sporty girls (who either did not make or did not try out for the competitive league teams) I’d take any and all chances to steal, to push the boundaries of blocking etiquette, and grab any window of opportunity no matter how slim or how silly it made me look when I face-planted in the effort.

There are things about this oblivious, blindly confident and blinkered Sara I admire.

In all the thousands of pre-teens I’ve met since, I like her dedication. Her commitment. I like that she tried hard, even when she really, really sucked at things.

I want to be proud of a fictitious her who willfully ignored the twitterings of boys in the bleachers. Who avoided the hair-braiding and gossip on the bench in some morally confident sense of purpose. But in reality she was unaware these things even existed.

The dawn of puberty in her friends wouldn’t reach her horizon for years yet.

But. In getting to know, however superficially, thousands of preteens since, the full extent of her latent and underdeveloped humanity (for lack of a better word) has burst on my adult consciousness.

This girl fouled-out a basketball a game (to her) like any other. She snatched at the ball every play like a long-taloned vulture. She was playing point against one of her good friends. One who’d just had a terrible tragedy at home and wasn’t keeping it together very well. This Sara’s focus on the game was not, in this instance, a strong mark of character or confidence. And for months later its repercussions would be a source of confusion and pain.

This girl, in her first winter without glasses, body-checked someone and lost a contact lens in the process. And instead of calling time and tapping out, she continued to make break after break — getting the ball under the hoop on an empty half court, with 5 seconds to make a perfectly clear shot before anyone was even in range. And she missed. 15 times in a row. Because she was blind and would not admit it.

Or perhaps admit is the wrong verb.

When I look inside this Sara, as only I can do, when I look through her myopic eyes on the court that day, she isn’t thinking critically about what she is or is not capable of; if she is or is not up to this as she would be if fully lensed.

She is here to play basketball, so she keeps playing until the whistle blows. No questions, no second guessing. No context, no reasons. The questions of if she should play or if she should stop, or if the context of this particular game may be different from any other, are not on her agenda. (In fact, she has no agenda.)

The analytical skills required for such questions, the powerful tools of anticipation, understanding and circumstantial reasoning will be honed over the years to come. For a while, in a future she can’t yet see, these will be her most cherished assets.

Knowing how people will react, what is appropriate, when others should be pushed to the spotlight (hint: always). How to blend into the darkness. These skills will be treasured like a semi-super power.

But these later years, where knowing hows and whys mattered most; where being sure is paramount; they too would bring trouble. The double-think and self-conscious doubt will creep in disguised as wisdom and safety.

They will seep in under closed doors and into the folds of her softening body. They will plague her into a psychological paralysis antithetical to her previous shark-like existence. Counteracting years of blind court antics with infinite inprecipitous stalemates.


And now.

Now I stand on the hill of my own existence.

And I find myself in a Goldilocks situation.

That blind Sara had spunk and dedication and a down-to-earth quality I really like. The Sara who grew to be so wise and so lost has powerful quiet things in her stores which language can only reach with glancing strokes…


So now what?

Can I have all that confidence and single-minded focus now I do see the crowds, now I do know my limits?

Can I value my inner depths and respect my softer places and still walk forward into the world unafraid?


In the end it is not a question of can.

It is not even a question of how.

It isn’t a question at all. It is a summons.



The time has come.




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