One of the best characteristics of the small town and school that I grew up in was that it was small, so small that it required most all of us to play every sport and still be in the band and work at the concession stands, take tickets for plays and games, build sets for drama productions and do our part in creating the yearbooks…and show up for class every day.
Because of that experience, I did things that, looking back, I don’t think I would have done otherwise. At the top of that list was basketball. I was never very good at it, but I could dribble the ball to our side of the court and pass it when someone better than me needed it. However, shooting that ball into the basket was fraught with all kinds of good and bad possibilities that culminated in my adolescent mind into one foreboding question, “What if you miss?”
Last night, my 9-year old nephew and I decided to shoot hoops until it became too dark to see what we were doing. We each chose a basketball and took turns shooting and talking. It was a really good time to reconnect and hear what he’s thinking about, but what really mesmerized me was his desire to just “shoot the ball.”
He never seemed to care at all whether he made a basket or not. He was more interested in seeing how far he could launch it from someplace around the court. At one point, he was nearly two courts away and on the other side of my Jeep and looked at me with this grin that said, “Let’s see what happens.” Though he didn’t even come close to hitting the backboard, much less putting it into the net, on that particular long shot, he was unwavering and did it until he finally tipped the hoop just enough to make it rattle and shake. There was no one to say, “Don’t do it. You’ll never make it. Come back to the court. Take an easy shot.”
Don’t get me wrong. He was happy when that ball often hit its mark and would swish through the net with that sweet sound that only a basketball meeting a hoop can make. But he seemed even happier to just play the game, to see what might happen next.
When the sun finally set and we put everything away and walked home, I couldn’t help but think that I had just learned a lesson…and that 9-year old teachers are nice to have around.