Hooray for the home team

“Ring for a King,” screamed the headlines last week as the Miami Heat won the National Basketball Association championship for 2012. The king of the court was Lebron James, crowned most valuable player of the year and the tournament.

Hopefully showing no disrespect to his majesty, I was reminded of the viewing/funeral of James Henry Smith a few years ago. James Henry’s family wanted to remember him as he was in life. The funeral home was understanding and honored their request.

The family and friends agreed it was the perfect touch. They used the usual phrases. “He looks so natural. That’s how we remember him alright. He looks just like he’s asleep.” No one seemed to mind the television set and the video player showing a continuous replay of the greatest moments of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team. It was all a part of the last special remembrances with James Henry.

And instead of having James in the casket, they had him slouched comfortably in his Lazy Boy lounge chair with the remote channel selector in his hand, a couple of cold ones at his elbow, a few Doritos on the table. It was a touching occasion. Even the agnostics among the viewers sensed that there is an afterlife, and that James Henry was in heaven.

Most of us don’t get quite that wound up or unwound about our local sports teams, but we do some bizarre things, screaming ourselves hoarse, painting our faces, traveling to far off places to attend road games. We may not know the grade point average of our children, but we know the earned run average of the pitcher on our team. We may ignore our own strains and sprains as we agonize over the latest ankle twist the running back has sustained and what that injury may mean to our future. We cheer in victory, and hold solemn wake over the water cooler in defeat.

What is this hunger, this driving force? Partly it may be memories of our own days of triumph and tragedy in sports. Often we are better athletes in our minds and memories than the actual history would substantiate. And, as the saying goes, “The older I get, the better I was.” Seeing someone perform the way we do in our dreams lets us live in a better world.

Tied to that is the irrational feeling that somehow if my team is winning that reflects on my self esteem and my value as a human being. Don’t try to parse out the logic of this position. There isn’t any. Unfortunately this rah rah can stimulate riots, wars, and bloodshed. Agitators, demigods, and hate mongers know how to light and stoke these fires in the emotional unthinking masses. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is the most current example of bad logic leading often to worse actions.

But in its more benign forms a display of “…root, root, root for the home team, if they don’t win it’s a shame,” is just one more entertaining kooky eccentricity of which we humans have more than enough to be entertaining.

And sometimes the sporting world rewards us with a role model we can take home and apply. Such an one may be Jabari Parker from Chicago. Only a high school junior, he has already been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And is being pursued by every college with a basketball court–that is when they can get past the palace guards. That would be Jabari’s mom and dad. They want him to be a son first, then a star maybe. Jabari agrees. “Basketball is what I do, not what I am,” he states. What he is, is a respectful son, gentleman student, and faithful member of his church. As a committed Mormon, he attends early morning seminary classes, treats his dates with dignity and respect, and serves in his church assignments. He humbly acknowledges his abilities, and encourages others to develop theirs. Here is an athlete we can cheer for no matter who he plays for.

Being happy

Abraham Lincoln said it succinctly. “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” The research bears him out.

Money? Above a certain level of grinding poverty, the rich are no happier than those of us with more modest means. The suddenly rich often find the euphoria wears off fast. Then badgered and bothered from without, and tempted by power and money from within, they sometimes find the lottery they won or the business or stock that propelled them to wealth much more a curse than a blessing.

People seem to have a happiness set point. We are attached to this mark by elastic bands. Good fortune or bad may swing us above or below our happy point, but we soon return to it.

Apparently it is true, “Money can’t buy happiness.” (Although my father used to say, “It can sure buy you the kind of misery you enjoy most.”)

Freedom? It depends. I talked with a young man in prison a while back. He was almost schizophrenic in his feelings. He was happy that he was five weeks from walking through the prison door a free man. He had paid his serious debt to society. But he was at least as frightened and nervous as he was joyful. He had spent twenty years of his adulthood behind bars. He was not at all sure he could make a life for himself in the outside world. Statistically he had cause for concern. A high percentage of ex-prisoners return. One reason is that life as a free person is fraught with challenges, dangers, and chances to fail as well as succeed.

We as a people in America have given away much of our freedom voluntarily. Apparently we feel we are happier with less freedom and with more assumed security.

Even those who have gone from total bondage to instant freedom sometimes find amazingly that the euphoria wears off after a while. Charlie Plummer was locked in a North Vietnam cage for seven years as a prisoner of war. I heard him say later in a speech, that when they finally swung open that door at the end of the Vietnam conflict and set him free, he vowed he would never have another down day in his life. He said, “I have never forgotten how wonderful it is to be a free American. But I have to say despite my best intentions I still find myself getting irritated if I have to stand in an airport line too long. I have days when I get down. I’m not totally happy all the time like I vowed I would be if I ever got out of that bamboo cage.”

Environment? Obviously our outward conditions have an effect on how happy or unhappy we may be. But the real regulator is within us. We analyze and evaluate how good our lives are, and then we peg our happiness quotient based on that.

Blessed are those optimistic souls who can pull emotional nourishment out of thinnest soup of human satisfactions. Most of us do not have that heart set naturally. We have to work at it.

Internal happiness set point? Conscious mental sets can help. Remember that most of the things we worry about never come to pass, and that those that do happen are usually not as serious as we anticipated.

Resolve to live joyfully in the present. Repeat often, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalms 118:24)

And don’t beat up on yourself if your smile slips now and then. This profound observation is probably true. “No one is happy all the time. If we were, we would be miserable.”

Be Big on Beginnings

“How to begin?” Writer Ray Bradbury age 91 took his last mighty leap on earth last week, and soared off to explore the celestial spheres he had written about in science fiction books since he was 14. I have been intrigued by his style of beginning a project since he told a gathering of us in a lecture, “I like to jump off cliffs and fashion my parachute on the way down.”

That would not be my native mode, but it seemed to work for him; 400 short stories, 100 novels, poems, and TV and movie scripts, more than 8 million copies of his books sold in 36 languages.

On the other hand, General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his brain trust of supporting generals spent years preparing to launch the biggest military operation in recorded history on D Day the sixth of June 1944. It was a colossal coordination of sea, land, and air forces to establish a beach head in France and begin taking Europe back from the Nazis. Despite their careful planning, foul weather over the English Channel made the launch impossible that day. The German generals thought so too, and left their commands for rest and relaxation away from the front.

Eisenhower took a huge risk, began anyway, caught the Germans by surprise and rolled ashore the mighty engine that would free Europe.

When to begin? I like the attitude of David Eugene Ray of Franklin, Tennessee, a few years ago. He wanted to enjoy the cards of congratulations he would receive on his next birthday, so he learned how to read—at age 99, and on his century celebration he was able to read his birthday cards. We should all be such beginners at any age.

In the eternal gospel perspective it is never too late to begin anything. There will be time sometime to accomplish every good thing we want to do. No worthwhile work will be wasted. Even if there are interruptions we will one day find the opportunities to finish.

Nothing happens in our lives without a beginning. Beginning is the antidote to the illness of procrastination. It is a key to the treasure chest of accomplishment. Preparation and planning are important. “Look before you leap” is often wise counsel. But there is definitely a time to leap.

We need to be anxiously engaged in good causes, forge ahead despite difficulties, and endure to the end. But before we can do any of that good stuff, we need to begin.

Carefully crafted or spontaneously launched, inaugurated early or late, under promising or threatening skies, every plan for the future is subject to some uncertainty. But one thing is certain; the plan that never begins will never succeed.