by Vincent W. Durnan, director
Wise words were spoken after a Middle School volleyball game.
It happened without any fanfare, just tumbling out after a Middle School volleyball b-team game. Words of wisdom from an unlikely source, and I’m excited to share:
Picture one of those first athletic events of the year, happening beyond the notice of most everyone, over in the Sperling Gym, with the High School players away, After-School programs in full swing, and a smattering of support from loving family members in the bleachers. As it turns out, we were playing the good youngsters of Poplar Grove (or “Popular Grove” as the friend-focused Middle Schoolers often presume, in a kind of Freudian way). And as it turns out, we lost.
The undeniable truth about MS volleyball, and maybe about Olympic volleyball for that matter, is getting your serve over the net and in play really helps you score points. We made valiant efforts with modest results, but scrap on we did, ultimately coming up short on the scoreboard. I waded into a postgame conversation with a few of our girls as they made plans to carry on for the rest of their busy day.
Aiming to provide some solace without confirming any was actually needed, I commended their efforts and asked quite innocently if they were disappointed. After all, a loss is a loss. And here’s where it gets good. They turn to me and respond in precisely these words, “No… we are so much better than yesterday.” And then they said something about getting to play again tomorrow and away they went.
Would that we all saw things that way. Instead of worrying about far distant consequences over which we have little control and less certain knowledge, what if we lived right in the middle of each day? As school routines settle into place, bedtimes get back to normal, and good intentions convert to consistent action, what if we made a point of measuring our days one at a time? My sense is that such an approach offers more than symbolic importance. It can be a big practical help.
There’s the almost surely apocryphal story about Einstein saying something about the most powerful force in the universe being compound interest, but the concept still bears consideration. The compound effect of a series of days that each brought some improvement can be more powerful than we might imagine. With the weeks and months stretching forward toward May, or some other discrete and distant milestone, it’s hard not to lose the magic of the time at hand. But I’d say it’s still better on all fronts—academic, social, health—to double down on the present.
One quote we can verify comes from Michael Puett’s (’82) recent and accessible bestseller “The Path.” He invoked Confucius’ “fundamental and deceptively profound question: How are you living your life on a daily basis? …a question about the tiniest things.” It’s unlikely our courageous and upbeat volleyball novices have ever seen the book, but they clearly get the concept.
Putting these words in print is as much of a reminder to myself as a message to anyone else. It would be no stretch to connect the anxiety endemic in our pop culture with an inability to remember the beauty of the little things. Happily, we’re in good company here at USN, and the days are pretty compelling one by one. We’ll get where we’re going, soon enough.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. Remember our commitment to being good to one another? Can we make a point of keeping that promise when behind the wheel on campus? May we never be so busy, frazzled, or convinced we are in some kind of chariot race that we miss a chance to be considerate with and of one another.