Never underestimate the power of affirmation.
Every single one of us needs to hear these words, “I value you. You are worthy.”
I needed it this week.
Hoosiers is a feel-good movie. Worth watching again and again. A David versus Goliath story about a small-town Indiana high-school basketball team that wins the state championship. (The story is loosely based on the Milan High School team that won the 1954 Indiana state championship.)
Gene Hackman plays coach Norman Dale. After being fired for egregious behavior in a previous coaching job, Dale is given a second chance in Hickory, a small Indiana town by his friend (and Hickory High School principle) Cletus.
Every time I watch the movie, there is a scene that unnerves me. In a good way.
Dennis Hopper plays “Shooter.” He is, quite literally, the town drunk. The script for his life could be the lyrics of Springsteen’s Glory Days. Basketball was, and is, his passion. But somewhere in his life, something tilted, and the bottle became larger than life itself. Now, Shooter is an embarrassment to his son Everett (a player on the Hickory basketball team), to the town, and to himself. While inebriated, Shooter makes scenes at games, giving the town a place to heap their moral umbrage. (What would we do I wonder, without a town drunk to make us feel better about ourselves?)
Due to health complications, Cletus is unable to continue as assistant coach. Needing an assistant, Coach Dale does the unthinkable. He drives to Shooter’s cabin. It is tucked way back into the woods, hidden from view, shabby and unkempt. Shooter hears but cannot see Dale.
“Who’s there?” He calls out, standing in front of his cabin, firing off a shot from his shotgun in hand.
When life is too much, everything and everyone feels like a threat.
Coach Dale assures Shooter there is no threat.
Shooter lowers his weapon and invites the coach into his cabin.
In the dishevelment of his “domicile,” you feel Shooter’s shame.
Coach gets to the point.
“I want you to be my assistant coach.”
“Me? You want me?” Shooter asks incredulous.
And it’s all there. In Shooter’s face, and in his demeanor. His heart is on display.
You don’t mean me, do you?
And in that moment, I am Shooter. Whenever love or grace or mercy are on the table, it’s easy to rifle through the litany in my mind: “Me? This me? Are you sure? Is this a hoax?”
Then coach Dale tells him the conditions; “wear a suit and tie and stay sober.” It’s the reality check. While Shooter is none too happy with the trade off, it’s important to know that these conditions are not about heaping more shame; they are an affirmation by Coach Dale that there is a Shooter underneath, and much larger than, the drunk, the façade, the caricature and the fear.
I value you. You are worthy.
There is power when someone sees in us, what we do not see in ourselves. Namaste.
To love another person is to see the face of God. (Victor Hugo)
And here’s the deal: Whatever the label or narrative of smallness we may carry, it is never the whole truth. Never. Never. Never.
Even so, our script or box will always influence or persuade us, to play small.
Which is another way of saying… We begin to hide our own beauty.
And when we hide our own beauty, we bury (literally, entomb) our courage.
And when we bury our courage, we disconnect from faith and hope and love.
This is a story about seeing that beauty inside, and reclaiming a self that is easily buried.
Here’s the scary part. We can’t really hear it unless we can say it to ourselves.
This I know for true; when we try to hear it, all of our well-honed defenses rise to the surface. “We’ve let others down. We’ve let ourselves down. We are not enough.”
This exchange between Dale and Shooter is not just about self-esteem. (Don’t get me started. While important, we’ve gone overboard equating self-esteem with the elimination of negative experiences. In little league now, everyone gets a trophy. Since when is losing so bad, especially if you gave the game your best shot?)
This Sabbath Moment is about wading into this life, living from sufficiency, and not scarcity. “You must give up the life you planned,” Joseph Campbell reminds us, “in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”
And of course, it is easier said than done. But I didn’t say it is easy. Just that it is worth it.
Oh, the things we do from scarcity. Like Shooter, we arm ourselves. We live defended. We treat everyone as a combatant. We pretend. We dismiss. We live like victims.
My own knee-jerk is to quarrel and fight. As if I am cornered, my worth at stake, and I shut down and ready myself for emotional combat. Lord have mercy.
So. Where do we go from here?
Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said that we “greet the world not with the tools we have made but with the soul with which we are born; not like a hunter who seeks prey but like a lover to reciprocate love.”
In other words: Put on your suit and tie, and join me in the game. Show up. Even in all of your insecurity; even in your ill-fitting suit.
“But I don’t know if I can give up the bottle,” Shooter admits. “It’s been good to me.”
It is enough to take the first step.
It is enough to take risks.
It is enough to contribute. Offer a hand. Affirm. And leave others better off than we found them.
It is enough to feel deeply. To get back up after falling down. To live wholehearted.
And when we do, we discover that this self, steeped in sufficiency (in value and worth), is alive and well.
I’m writing this in front of my fireplace. Outside we have 18 inches of snow, which for our neck of the woods is well, paralyzing. My Father, who lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, usually just shakes his head, but admits that this Snowpalooza counts. Much of the island is without power.
Even so, looking out on the hushed landscape through my window, it is spellbinding. As if taken back in time, a historic rendering, the color palate from footage shot with old black and white film.
Thursday night in our Vashon theater our spirits were lifted watching the concert celebrating Joni Mitchell’s 75th Birthday. Including Graham Nash singing Our House, which he wrote for her. Music is always good for whatever ails you.
And oh yes, Happy Valentine’s Day.
Quote for your week…
Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity. Pema Chodron
Notes to readers… Join me on Facebook. Every Monday, Sabbath Moment. Share with your friends. And, this is new; every weekday, a quote to nourish and pamper your soul.
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Coming in March, a new eCourse, Sacred Necessities: gifts for living with passion, purpose, heart and grace. Stay tuned.
POEMS AND PRAYERS
I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity. Gilda Radner Wilder
Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.
Slow my pace, Lord.
Slow my life. Come sit by me at the well. I am exhausted.
Give rest to my heart; bring calm to my feelings. Come, lead me to the mountain. I am empty.
Give me these hours the leisure to be still that I savor the quiet of rolling hills, tasting the presence of the Divine.
Bring me from the running of the day and the doing of the duties to the sitting in the evening to know the reward of being.
Set aside the problems of mind; soothe the aches of the heart; give rest to the body that I hear the music of my being and know a quiet that allows the soaring of the soul.
Be gentle, Teacher, teaching the truth of being. In gentleness, command: “Silence!”
In stillness embrace my spirit and re-enkindle with love… and opening the embrace give freedom to the soul.
Slow my pace, Spirit of Love, breathe into my being, Word… and with a mighty wind blow the incarnate word to the ends of the earth.
Monsignor Bernard Powers