Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Stooping in San Francisco: The Story of What Found Me II

I concluded my last post, Seven Days in Augusta: My Book Review, Sans Expectations professing what I believe is true. We find books, but quite often—books find us. On the very same day I hit "publish" for that blog, I was reminded this claim extends far beyond books. What a great way to live a life. See Mary Oliver's poem "Sometimes" for more on that.

A trend has taken storm throughout San Francisco. Its reach extends beyond COVID but shelter-in-place magnified this fad. I don't know if it has come to a city or town near you, but in both New York and San Francisco "Stooping" is a way of life. If you're not sure what that might mean, in January 2020, Vogue Magazine featured a story, replete with fantastic images that will help you connect the dots. In An Inside Look at the Instagram That Highlights New York’s Best Stoop Finds, the author Arden Fanning Andrews writes

Now, in the face of climate crisis, reuse has become aspirational. The upcycling movement is poised to transform traditional production in nearly every design genre, from fashion (Lou Dallas’s embellished Goodwill tees) to home furnishings (Harry Nuriev’s vinyl couch filled with Balenciaga pieces). And the longtime New York tradition of salvaging sidewalk castaways has come to social media: Since summer 2019, the Instagram account @stoopingnyc has shared borough dwellers’ best discoveries. Scrolling through the feed, heart-shaped ottomans and bubblegum armchairs share space with pearlescent mannequins, sunburst mirrors, and collections of tiger paintings or Mariah Carey vinyls, all available for zero dollars plus the price of transport. Each post is accompanied by a description of what to expect and the specific cross streets where it can be rescued.

“There is something wonderful about the concept that, whether it is conscious or not, people are putting these items out to give them a chance to be reused...in turn giving people a chance to decorate their homes and make new memories with the finds,” says the team.

I think Stooping also gives people an opportunity to tell a great story. One might find an object with history. It is fun to uncover its origin and potential past. This sense of discovery is often coupled with a bit of intrigue. More than once, I have asked myself, "Why would someone give that away?!" One answer lies in the eye of the beholder. We have all heard "one person's trash is another person's treasure." Such is the story I have to share.

During COVID, my friend and former colleague Sean and I have taken to going for walks in our respective neighborhoods. We love the architecture, gardens and colors of San Francisco homes. This beauty is often interrupted by city life—walking next to broken window glass on the street, a new tent pitched for housing on a neighborhood sidewalk and funky furniture that is often oversized, questionable or grand but broken. Some are all three. After we encountered a mid-century modern bookshelf that looked to have been homemade—Sean told me about @StoopingNYC. I wish Karl the Fog would create an SF version.... Later that night, Sean shared the Vogue piece with me and I decided to go get that bookcase.

On my way to retrieve it, I saw a green folding chair next to two other items left for a local stooper. I don't know why I decided to take it. The chair is faded. I hoped at best it was clean. I put it in my car and headed home. The next day, I removed the chair from my Jeep and as I began to unfold it, I realized this is no ordinary chair. It is the one the official ones that can only be purchased on site at Augusta National during The Masters. Though this is not like finding a member's jacket, I could hardly believe my good fortune. 

Just one day prior, I read about the role these folding chairs play in the tourney. Mark Cannizzaro writes

The chair culture at Augusta National for the Masters is unique. When patrons—that's the required name for what the rest of us call "fans" or "spectators"—place their chairs down, the unspoken Masters etiquette is that no one can move them. It's like kids saving a place in line at school and that place actually is saved. 

The  chairs are purchased at Augusta National. Patrons cannot bring their own chair onto the grounds. So there are thousands of those green folding chair with a Masters logo all over the golf course, ringing greens and tee box. 

"The etiquette is if the person isn't there, you're allowed to sit in the chair," Katcher said. "If the person who owns the chair comes, you simply get out of the chair. If you're smart, you have your name on the back of your chair so you can always find it."

And that is precisely what I found. One of those thousands of chairs that litters the golf course but doesn't often make its way back to San Francisco. The name tag was even left blank. I know the name that should go in there...

Reading "Seven Days in Augusta" reminded me of the chair culture at the Masters—just one of many ritualized traditions that make the tourney so special. 

When I saw the Masters logo on that chair I picked up—thanks to participation in the stoop culture—I was reminded again, sometimes we find things, but they find us, too. It's the simplest thing to consider but probably more true than I realize—and I think that's important. I May have take a seat, relax and consider this further in my new, old chair, that now has my name on the back.

Photo Credits
Masters Chairs
Empty Chairs

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Seven Days in Augusta: My Book Review, Sans Expectations

As written in my last post, I have learned to embrace a philosophy of low to no expectations. I don't take naturally to this way of seeing the world, but like a lot of things in life, it's important to remember that we don't have to get there alone. Let my book review of "Seven Days in Augusta: Behind the Scenes at the Masters" serve as my example.

I doubt that Mark Cannizzaro, a columnist for the New York Post and the author of this book would appreciate that introduction for his latest work. However, that is exactly how the text came to me.

My friend Lesley —one of my favorite golfing buddies—and I speak a lot of sports. She is tuned into the San Francisco Giants, our local sports station: KNBR, Golden State Warriors and of course the PGA/LPGA. When I saw her copy of "Seven Days in Augusta," I was excited to hear her impression. I picked it up and enthusiastically asked,  How was it? Lots of great stories? KNBR radio host Brian Murphy had lavished such praise, I felt for but a moment as though I were holding the golden ticket.

She told me, "for all the air time and hype it got, this book is not at all what I thought it would be.  It jumps all over the place. There are so many necessary edits, I wanted to grab a red pen and make changes. Even Phil's intro was lackluster." I thought to myself "that's too bad." I shrugged my shoulders and put it in my bag anyway. Expectations GONE.

I cannot tell you just how much I enjoyed this read. For one, the subject is among my favorites. I went to The Masters on Saturday and Sunday in 2016. Though the outcome wasn't what many golf fans had hoped for (the defending champion Spieth led by five shots when he made the turn, made a quadruple-bogey 7 at the 12th. He tied for second place, 3 shots behind the winner), I did see two holes-in-one that day. Just to experience what I have long watched on television was super special. To combine my memories and impressions with Cannizzarro's  anecdotes, traditions, history and stories was delightful. 

The foreward— written by Phil Mickelson— includes stories that only a beloved athlete like him has to share. For example, he recalls legendary foursomes with past champions and athletic celebrities. In a practice round before the tournament, he played with future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. Mickelson writes, "Tom said "Hey, listen. I've got to throw to [Patriot's receiver Julian] Edelman. I always throw a little bit to keep my arm sharp. Do you mind catching a few passes?" I can't believe Mickelson said "yes." I mean, I can—but is his hand insured?  

It was fascinating to read what each of his three championships meant to him. Not many golfers can give that take. Lefty said,

When I won the Masters for the first time in 2004, it was one of those moments that you kind of realize a dream. When you put stuff out there in the universe and you say, "This is what's going to happen, I'm going to do this," and then you actually do it...that's a cool moment. And that's what was happening for me when I won there for the first time." 

Whether or not Mickelson read "The Secret," I think there is something to be said for setting goals, creating a can-do mindset and then taking in the moment as it happens. Reading from this champion inspired me to consider how I do that in my life and remembering to tell my athletes to do the same.

"Seven Days in Augusta" is organized by days of the week, reflecting on a unique attribute of the tourney that corresponds to it. For example, Part One: Monday includes chapters entitled First Impressions, The Locals and The Paper.

I loved reading about the local rag, The Augusta Chronicle "which might as well be named the Masters Chronicle, because there isn't a publication on the planet that has done a better, more thorough and creative job on chronicling the history of the Masters than the local paper." 

Unfortunately, I did not pick up my own copy when I traveled to the second largest city in Georgia. However, reading about their paper sparked memories of "The Observer" —the student newspaper at Notre Dame. The Observer's back page featured sports stories. Without exception football was covered in extensive detail...but so was Bookstore Basketball, the world's largest five-on-five tourney. Features were so detailed and lengthy, we wondered if we read more about Bookstore heroes and heroines than the actual men's and women's hoops teams....

Given financial decline of the newspaper business and the digital revolution, The Augusta Chronicle will likely become a part of Masters history. It should be no surprise that Cannizzaro included its import and I'm glad he did.

Part Two: Tuesday features The Dinner, The Town and The Tree. I can't wait to write a future blog post on the traditions and the menus that take place at the Dinner—a truly exclusive event, open only to past champions!

The Table of Contents speaks for itself. Beyond the Par-3 contest, the honorary starter, moving day, historic defeats and climatic victories, "Seven Days in Augusta" brings the people, place and events of The Masters to life.

I am pretty sure I have passed on a vignette from "Seven Days in Augusta" in nearly round of golf I have played since I read it. Spend enough time with me and you will learn that I want to eat at T-Bonz—a steakhouse that hosts the final dinner for caddies. Or, how lucky I feel  that I was able to attend the crown jewel of golf when I did. New security around tickets, makes that even more tough. 

can see how this tournament is like Christmas week for those who live and work in Augusta. I passed by Hooters on Washington Road and even though John Daly might not be long for this world, I'm still not sure I want to stop by and have him sign any part of my anatomy. I have always been obsessed with the green jacket—Pantone 342. I knew that Sergio wore his jacket at this wedding but my favorite story involved the much maligned Patrick Reed who wore his to a Knicks game. Sitting court-side for the first time with his wife Justine, their seats were next to Chris Rock an 2-Chains. What happened is worth reading. The bottom line is that sports really do offer the gift of connection

Would I have enjoyed "Seven Days in Augusta" as much as I did if my expectations were different? Maybe....but maybe not. 

What I have always found interesting is that we find books, but quite often—books find us. This was one of those and I'm grateful to Lesley and to reading it with no expectations. 


Photo Credits
Phil Wins
Masters Pins
Book Cover
Reed at Knicks Game

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Name of My New Game: Low-to-No Expectations.

I have flirted with this philosophy before. I have fought against it, I have debated its merit and prevented myself from accepting this outlook on life—until now. As a result, I think I am both healthier and happier. I want you to know that I have embraced living with low-to-no expectations. Thank you COVID. 

Psychology Today will make no exception to its benefit. Their article "Five Benefits of Having No Expectations" could have featured 50 of them. And, we learned long ago from "Denmark's secret to happiness: low expectationsthe "Danes have scored higher than any other Western country on measures of life satisfaction, and scientists think they know why. In the Dec. 23 issue of the medical journal BMJ, researchers review six possible explanations, and conclude that the country's secret is a culture of low expectations."

Indeed, if you set your expectations low, you'll seldom be disappointed. For example, I have long envied my golfing friends born and raised in Ireland. When you learn to play a game in a place that has difficult, wet, windy and adverse weather—anything else is gravy. Just to be clear, it's not that an Irish golfer couldn't have expectations for sunny, clear skies and warm temperatures but it's just not par for the course. By expecting that which is difficult, anything else is upside. Luck of the Irish, redux.

Following the PGA Championship—the first major in 2020, I asked any golfer who would listen why we enjoyed it so much. I wanted to know, Is it because San Francisco was the host city? Is it because the tournament play really was so exciting? Was it because I went in with low expectations?  I believe I relished in the golf for all three reasons. However, low expectations weighed in heavily. 

The true test of this philosophy will take place Thursday through Sunday November 12-15 when Augusta National hosts the 84th Masters Golf tournament. I can't help but get excited for what is my favorite sports event of the year. I use my official The Masters coffee mug all week. I plan my weekend around television coverage. I go out of my way to talk to my friends who enjoy it as much as I do and hope others will do the same.

I am confident that the members and leadership at Augusta National expect nothing less than the highest of expectations from patrons and sports fans. I doubt the low to no expectations are allowed in the door...or gates. And why should they be? This might be the one setting where so much has been and is possible. Hospitality. Excellence. Memory. History. Beauty. Victory and Defeat. Challenge and Opportunity are what they pridefully present.

It might require spiritual discipline to enter into the third and final golf major of 2020 with low to no expectations. It will be an interesting test of the will—mind and heart. In my next post however, I will share how this philosophy of low expectations underscores why I loved reading "Seven Days in Augusta." 

How do you handle expectations? Do you think it's better to not have them? How do you reconcile expectations with faith. It might be worth taking up in prayer. Here is a passage to consider.... keep me posted.

In 1 Corinthians 2: 9-10
“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him,” this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.

Photo Credits
Shakespeare Quote
2020 Masters
Lowry at the 2019 Open

Friday, September 11, 2020

Finding Hope in an Orange October

The seniors enrolled in my Sports and Spirituality course are the first cohort to have been born after September 11, 2001. Every year at this time, I show “Nine Innings From Ground Zero,” an HBO Sports documentary that chronicles how baseball provided a way for people to come together in the aftermath of tragedy and loss. This film speaks truth to power: my students are aware that they have grown up in a world that is markedly different than the one just days, weeks and months prior to that fateful day. And, how true that is 19 years later. That realization led me to consider What might “America’s pastime” offer amidst the many struggles we face today? I then thought what a bold question. Our challenges are many and multi-faceted. I have but one idea.... Orange October.

Yesterday might have been one of the stranger and more challenging days in all of the 18 years I have lived in San Francisco. I didn't matter if you woke up and 7:00 a.m., 9:30 a.m. or even 11:00 a.m., you would have thought it was the middle of the night. Words and phrases used to describe the day include Mars, Apocalyptic, Return of the Jedi, and Blade Runner 2049. One friend noted that he is waiting for the Nile to turn to blood....

Living in the City by the Bay has not been easy in COVID-land. We were among the first to shelter-in-place and remain one of the most restricted domesticities in the country. Our homeless population has taken to tent cities and is ever growing. A 49-square mile venue that became the most expensive place to live in the United States is riddled with vacancy, unemployment, increased crime and filth. To say the struggle in the City of St. Francis is real is no lie. I see and pray with and through that every single day. The natural beauty, the sound of the foghorns, easy access to great golf, friends and neighbors that I cherish have kept me sane. However, the orange sky was a tipping point. I wanted to think of it as cool but the reason why it was happening weighed heavily on my heart. 

In the Explanation Behind California's Orange Sky, Allison Rogers writes

By the time sunlight reaches Earth's surface, it's filtered down, leaving behind the blue sky we love to see. The term for that is Rayleigh Scattering. The smoke from wildfires filled the western sky, filtering the sun's light even more. That left the sky with the orange hue that was widely captured on social media.

Reason or not, it's bizarre. Meanwhile, the wildfires continue to rage in parts of the state.

Experts now say six of California's largest wildfires have occurred in 2020. The largest wildfire is still ongoing. Another one of the largest is the Creek Fire outside of Fresno. Aircraft crews are flying out to tackle the blaze.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, wildfires burned more than 3.1 million acres in California since the beginning of the year.

I am sure you saw photographs. My Facebook feed was dominated by 40 shades of orange. So many places in California are hurting. And yet, the connection could not be lost. If baseball could offer something to New Yorkers post-9/11 what might is offer us in a time like this.

And then I remembered: Orange October.

In their creative marketing the San Francisco Giants have always pushed for an Orange October. The recent skyscape however convinced me I would never want one of those again. But, I decided to play with the terminology. I stayed with the concept. In years past, I love those banners that hang along the Embarcadero. I cherish those banners that hang in and around Oracle Park. I typed in Orange October and a profile of the 2012 World Series team emerged.

I watched. I cheered. I laughed. I smiled. I needed all of it.

On one level watching Orange October 2012 World Series: Inside the Clubhouse wasn't easy. I miss going to games and giving high fives to complete strangers. I have wondered when I will be able to hug my friends—especially my fellow Giants fans again. I saw sunny, warm skies over San Francisco. I sometime question if our best weather really will come. 

And then, I remember why this Orange October was so memorable. This was the team that faced six elimination games only to sweep the Tigers in the World Series. This trophy is the middle child (I am one) and reminds me that each one TRULY is special. I delighted in revisiting the unique personalities of the team—from The Franchise: Tim Lincecum to Hunter hyper Pence. I saw Pablo Sandoval do what so few players have done—hit three home runs in a single game (off Verlander, thank you very much!). I stood in those bars. I attended that parade. I called a fellow Giants fan after watching just to further unpack these memories.

Two months ago, no one knew if baseball would continue. With an outbreak of COVID among the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals, most sports fans thought the season would come to a close. But here we are, mid-September and teams like the Giants are competing for a playoff spot. 

In the aftermath of 9/11, professional sports were suspended for a week. In due time, they resumed and became venues for people to express their hope, share their grief and spend a few hours doing something different.

Orange September will pass. I need this reminder—the proof, the evidence, the very hope—that when it does, the high fives, cheers, home runs, comeback victories and celebrations will only mean that much more. Thus, And I look forward to the Orange Octobers to come....

Love and prayers in a special way for those who grieve on 9/11 and those affected by the source of the orange sky. Peace.

Photo Credits
Oracle Park
Orange October

Monday, September 7, 2020

The Problem...and Complexity of Anger: What We Can Learn from Novak Djokovic

I wish I could say I watched what transpired at the 139th US Open in real time. Instead, I write my remarks from my perch—having watched countless replays, from multiple camera angles of Novak Djokovic's default in the fourth round match against Pablo Carreno Busta. The court of public opinion has reviewed, analyzed, criticized and weighed in on Djokovic's past, his present and concerns about his future. Now, I too can play the role of both judge and jury. Honestly, I'd rather not. Does that make me sympathetic to him? I'll let you be the judge and jury of that.  No, the purpose of this blog post is not to judge the best player in the world but offer insight into what we might learn from him and the problem of anger.

Tennis is physically and mentally demanding (understatement of the year). Outbursts of emotion—both positive and negative—aren't uncommon. Players collapse on the court after a huge point and climb into the stands after a great win. In the same match, tempers rise, profanities are uttered and rackets get broken. As fans, we are witnesses to varied, dynamic responses—especially at the US Open! 

Novak Djokovic is the number one tennis player in the world. At the age of 33 he already has 17 Grand Slam titles to his name. While sports fans talk about Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as the great players in the game, tennis fans know that it's quite likely Djokovic will surpass them both as the winningest player of all time. All three athletes are different in style and in temperament. King Fed is known as calm and collected, Rafa is powerful and emotive and The Djoker is flashy, electric and temperamental

As reported on CBS news when Jon Wertheim asked Rafa has never broken a racket. Wertheim said: "You haven't broken too many rackets in competition have you? (laugh) How many? Do you know the total?

Rafael Nadal: Yes, si.

Jon Wertheim: What is it?

Rafael Nadal: Zero.

Jon Wertheim: Zero. Never broken a racket?

Rafael Nadal:  Uh-uh. (negative)

Jon Wertheim: What is that about?

Rafael Nadal (Translation): My family, they wouldn't have allowed me to break a racket. For me, breaking a racket means I'm not in control of my emotions. 

The same cannot be said of Djokovic (see French Open 2016). He is known for angry outbursts on the court, damaging equipment and in the process—his reputation. It also led to his disqualification before the completion of the first set of his match on September 6, 2020. 

The USTA issued a public statement about the ruling. It says "In accordance with the Grand Slam rulebook, following his actions of intentionally hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences, the US Open tournament referee defaulted Novak Djokovic from the 2020 US Open. Because he was defaulted, Djokovic will lose all ranking points earned at the US Open and will be fined the prize money won at the tournament in addition to any or all fines levied with respect to the offending incident."

On Instagram, Djokovic said "I need to go back within and work on my disappointment and turn this all into a lesson for my growth and evolution as a player and human being. I apologize to the @usopen tournament and everyone associated for my behavior. I’m very grateful to my team and family for being my rock support, and my fans for always being there with me. Thank you and I’m so sorry." Rather than be the judge or sit in the jury box about his actions and his words, I want to consider what we can learn from this unfortunate event.

First, the feeling of anger is not in itself a sin, as with all emotions. However, anger can very easily lead to other sins—most notably wrath, or rage. Anger, when it becomes wrath can culminate in actions that are harmful to God, self and others. Rage gets away from us, and leads to unintended consequences—often in the form of both mental and physical pain. But anger isn't one-dimensional is it. Anger can be justifiable. If someone disparaged your mom or uttered racist jokes with no recompense, anger is appropriate. Justifiable anger appears even in sports. The missed pass interference call, NFC championship game between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams in 2019 comes to mind. The tennis player gets called out when they very clearly saw it hit the line—sometimes more than twice!—can't just sit back and remain calm. What to do? Let's consider its complexity.

In the article "Why So Mad?" Andrew Santella writes, 

As one of the classic seven deadly sins, anger holds an exalted place but is a bit of a misfit among the group. It is the only one of the seven that doesn’t pay off in our self-interest.

For people like me who have never been unusually prone to anger, that makes the emotion difficult to understand. There’s no obvious payoff to a fit of anger. Only an outburst, hurt feelings or, worse yet, some violence. Hardly ever any real resolution to the problem that started the whole thing. Where’s the temptation in that?

No pay off for Djokovic. In fact, he was fined $10,000. And, it's fair to say Roger Federer may sympathize with Santella—in his disposition, but how might Djokovic respond? 

Santella continues, 

In The Enigma of Anger, Garrett Keizer writes that his anger “has more often distressed those I love and those who love me than it has afflicted those at whom I am angry.” 
Knowing that anger doesn’t always pay doesn’t necessarily make it easier to control it. Which may help explain why anger is so prominent in our lives. Our religious tradition centers on a God who, when provoked, turned people to salt, drowned entire armies, and sent floods and pestilence as tokens of his wrath. The most famous episode of anger in the New Testament is Jesus lashing out at the money changers of the temple. It might be the most modern scene in the Gospels.

If you did watch the match, you will see that Djokovic was struggling with his own game and rising to the level of his opponent. Though nothing close to a professional, the athlete in me understands the mounting frustration/anger he had to have been feeling. Athletes—What do you do with the anger when you can't bring your best self to the game? When you are the one making all the mistakes? We can see from this incident what NOT to do. That's not always a bad way to learn...! 

Finally, Santella reports 

We’re also deeply suspicious of our anger. The Romans preached self-control, and Renaissance essayist Montaigne advised marshaling our anger and using it wisely. He urged people to “husband their anger and not expend it at random for that impedes its effect and weight. Heedless and continual scolding becomes a habit and makes everyone discount it.”

That advice recognizes one of the paradoxes of anger: It’s often destructive, it’s often a waste, but every once in a while it works. It can fuel our drive to achieve, it can help us maintain our self-respect, it can help stop the world from walking all over us.

The trick, apparently, is getting angry at the right times and not getting angry at the wrong ones. Sounds easy, right? Mark Twain suggested, “When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear.”

Great advice, Fantastic insight. It is destructive. It is a waste. He lost his chance to win another title. Perhaps anger fuels Djokovic to play better? The problem is that it must be channeled constructively. Clearly Nadal learned to manage that emotion that is pumping through his veins; perhaps his family insisted upon that. Community can help us with challenges must larger than ourselves

The problem with anger is the unintended consequences that result from it. I sincerely believe that Djokovic did not intend to harm the line judge in the least. But he paid a steep price for harboring this emotion through a ball—the same instrument that leads to victory and in this case defeat.

Djokovic said "This whole situation has left me really sad and empty. I checked on the lines person and the tournament told me that thank God she is feeling ok. I‘m extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So wrong."

Unintended, yes. Wrong, yes. Let us remember to count to four. Think of our families. And if you're still angry go ahead and throw down a few choice swear words and/or offer a prayer. In fact the webpage "13 Powerful Ways for Overcoming Anger and Resentment" speaks to the complexity of this emotion. Each one is worth considering for ourselves and the many ways we must work with and through this emotion. Peace.

Calm My Anger Prayer

Lord, bring peace to my mind and my heart as I feel angry at the situation I am in. May I take hold of your promise that you will never leave me nor forsake me. In whatever circumstances I face that produce anger in my heart, remind me that you have not left my side and you never will. When you are with me I can trust you to fight my battles, I do not need to allow anger to take control. Give me your peace Father, may it rule over my life. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Photo Credits
Instagram apology
With Line Judge
Big Three

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Putting—An Analogy for the Spiritual Life

Sports and Spirituality thrives on analogy. Metaphors are the language we speak. I love a good parable and an aphorism is a rare but precious literary gem. However, as my students are learning the language, I often have to fall back on cliches and expressions we know so well. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Despite the risk of mastering the obvious, I began class this past week asking my students: Why putting is so important? Fortunately, I had a story from my team match play victory as well as two great examples from the BMW Championship to serve as evidence—to help us understand the game of golf and the spiritual life. 

At the risk of stating the obvious, putting is important because the small things do matter. Everyone knows you "drive for show and putt for dough" but what might that mean? The numbers speak for themselves. Dave Pelz writes, "Regardless of skill level, putting accounts for approximately 43 percent of your total strokes, taking into account your good putting days and the ones where you're ready to snap your flatstick over your knee." 43%! That is nearly half of a golfer's game and yet we love to talk about the 323 yard drive Bryson DeChambeau is now blasting down the fairway exponentially more. We want to see the power, the speed and velocity of a ball well hit; putting is often an afterthought. 

Every golfer knows that "the fastest way to game improvement and shaving a significant number of strokes off their game is by improving their putting." Pelz recommends "at least 50% of your allotted practice time be spent on the putting green." This might be true for the pros, but most amateurs—like myself—are out on the range.

In the spiritual life, it's easy to forget the little things. When I make time to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, it's not usually to confess the venial or smaller sins—the idle gossip I spread, the aggressive driver I honked at or worse, flipped off....the subtle disrespect I showed a colleague. No usually, I go to the Lord with bigger problems and heavier sins. The truth of the matter is they all add up; they are all related and part of my life. One is not totally separate from the other. 

In golf, we say your scorecard doesn't show how you got there. A six inch putt counts as much as 146 drive (the average distance off of the tee for an amateur female golfer) and/or a 216 yard one (average distance for the amateur male golfer). As I know too well, I can get on the green in regulation...or near it!...only to add an addition two— if on point, three—too often and worse four strokes to my score card. 

I sincerely think it serves us well to spend more time with this analogy if we want to be more holy, loving, compassionate and forgiving. I can be generous and kind in the big moments—the Thanksgiving drive, with the gifts I put under the tree, and more—but it is equally important to do the same with our daily interactions, our weekly meetings and so forth.

With that reminder in check, I would like to offer one other thought that crossed my mind on the importance of putting. Golf fans will know, putting CAN be exciting. In fact, they can be downright miraculous and diabolical in the same round. This quality makes it even more intriguing to consider.

Last Sunday, I participated in the WGN Team Cup Match Play Challenge at Olympic Club. My partner and I were ranked #10 and played the #7 ranked team. We were down by three as we entered the back nine. This is no easy task to come back from...that is unless your partner's putter gets hot. We still aren't sure why or how it happened, but my partner Leslie did not miss a single putt on holes 10-18. 

One of my absolute favorite phrases in sports is "catching fire." Too often, I find people use it prematurely—I know I have, because I want to believe it is true. However, she did. Our opponents, Leslie and I all watched in disbelief as every putt drained into the hole. Four feet, eight feet, ten feet, even fourteen feet out, she did not miss. It was incredible. We all realized we were witnessing something special. 

And all sports fans, must have felt the same way at the finish of the BMW Championship. Dustin Johnson made this putt on the 72nd hole at Olympic Fields golf course to force a play off. One putt! One stroke. In order to do that, he had to read the green—accounting for the slop and the break. DJ also had to determine the right speed for a putt that goes in but 3% of the time. Again, it's the small things—paying attention...detail matters. 

This incredible feat however was matched by his opponent minutes later. John Rahm nailed a 66 foot putt to end it and win the championship. I will let the video footage speak for itself. 

I will let you play with these components of the analogy. Is it possible to "catch fire" and do the little things right—again and again? When we pay attention and notice the details, does it make it easier to do the little things right? And can doing even the little things right be exciting too? This is worth discussion and debate. You don't need to be in my class to consider. 

Media Credits
Dynamic Catholic Image and Video is from PGA
Dustin Johnson Putting Stance

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Youth is Not Always Wasted on the Young: Evidence through Sports and Spirituality

They say "youth is wasted on the young." Not always. When it comes to Sports and Spirituality, I would like it to be known if a young person has an idea, if he or she follows their budding passion and if it leads to "peak experiences." Go for it. Support them. Joy, memories and life lessons will follow. Here are but a few examples.

I have no idea where I got the idea, but when I was fourteen years old, I wrote to the Northern California Tennis Association (NCTA) asking how I might volunteer as a ball girl. I got a response! I remember the letter informed me that most ball girls / boys are networked to volunteer through their club. The good news however, was that a one club was shorthanded. If I wanted to lend a hand, they could use me. A few phones calls and one supportive mom later, I stood on the court behind Gabriella Sabatini and Mary Jo Fernandez, who played at the Oakland Coliseum for the Virginia Slims Tournament  Sabatini won.

As mentioned in my last post, "I have been nominated to list the 10 athletes I have enjoyed watching the most. One athlete per day for 10 consecutive days. No explanations, no reviews, only pics." Sabatini was the first tennis player I shared. When you have the opportunity to see an athlete play THAT up close and personal, you just don't forget. For example, a month later, I was a ball girl for the qualifying round of the Transamerica Open for a young, unranked but up and coming collegiate player and his opponent. I can still recall how fast and forceful their serves were coming at me. I wanted to duck and cover every time as one or the other stood in front of me for the return of serve. The winner that day—Michael Chang—went on to become one of the Top 10 in the world. Sabatini was too. She was tall and graceful; her game was so smooth and strong. I loved watching her play for many years after. I'm so grateful to have had those memories (and that my parents supported me in this!). 

I wasn't doing this for my college resume. I wasn't copying someone who had done this before. I got an idea and I went for it. I suppose that quality still lives on in me and I think it's a good one—which is why the article "St Patrick eighth grader hosts virtual camp" in Catholic San Francisco caught my attention. Christina Gray writes,

Caroline McAuliffe came up with the idea after all of her summer camps and activities were cancelled due to COVID-19.

“Caroline saw the need for these little ones to feel connected during this very lonely, socially distant time and she devised a way to make it happen,” she said.

In a flyer promoting the free camp to incoming kindergarten families, Caroline introduced herself to school families. She said she was motivated to design and host the camp for incoming kindergarteners like her brother Michael. The in-person camps that normally welcome kindergarteners were cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Each 30-minute Zoom session was geared to help the young students get to know school schedules and each other. Each day, campers practiced the Pledge of Allegiance and the school creed and then read a story or did a craft or game together.

“Yesterday, she used the story “Pigs Make Me Sneeze,” by Mo Willems to teach the children the importance of hand washing and wearing a mask,” Nicole said.

According to her mother, Caroline’s own recent distance learning experiences at St. Patrick gave her the confidence and motivation to offer the camp. Lessons and activities got the stamp of approval from principal Angela Hadsell — as well as her little brother Michael.

The vast majority of the 22 incoming kindergarteners participated, with Caroline hosting a morning and afternoon session to give families the flexibility to participate.

Never underestimate what a young person can and might do. We want to believe this is true—but we need evidence. Thank you Caroline!

And the varsity  girls' tennis team at St. Francis High School offers but another example. Our school community is teaching and learning remotely for the first quarter. All sports will compete in either Season 1 or Season 2—God willing. 

Girls' tennis, which typically competes in the Fall decided that the delay on their season's start wasn't an excuse for not getting together. They created a welcome video for the freshman class and in doing so, taught me and any viewer more about their culture, their leadership and what makes their sport special. I love that they thought to do this on their own. Sans directions, requirements, any deadline or parameter, this team has given us a small slice of the joy and fun of Lancer girls' tennis. Thank you ladies!

I have heard many people say "don't let a pandemic stop you from..." What would you say? Reorganizing your closet? painting your garage ;-)? Improving your golf game? Your prayer life? For young people, I hope the answer is: experiences of Sports and Spirituality. Keep me posted.

Photo Credits
GS at VA Slims
Virtual Camps is from CSF

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Explanation Necessary: Bryant and Colby Young

Earlier this week, I was tagged on a Facebook post by a former high school teammate. I was asked to paste the following information on to my personal page. It now reads: "I have been nominated to list the 10 athletes I have enjoyed watching the most. One athlete per day for 10 consecutive days. No explanations, no reviews, only pics." I'm sure there is a name for this Facebook phenomena; if there is, please let me know what it's called. I can't say I have ever participated in one of these lists, but this was one I did not want to miss. 

On Day One, I posted a picture of Bryant Young, a star defensive tackle for the San Francisco Forty Niners.  Young, aka "B.Y." an All American at Notre Dame was drafted in the first round, as the seventh overall pick. He is also one of my Dad's all time favorite Niners.The stats will help you understand why, but sports writer Gary Peterson paints a fuller picture. He writes 

He stood 6-foot-3 and weighed an immovable 291 pounds during his years as an awe-inspiring defensive lineman for the 49ers.

He was as pleasant as a summer breeze off the field. He quietly commanded total respect on the field.

For decades the 49ers’ most prestigious honor has been the Len Eshmont Award, which exemplifies the “inspiration and courageous play” of an original 49er who died before his time. B.Y. won the award. Eight times. In 12 years.

The Giants have the Willie Mac award. The Niners have Len Eshmont award. To think that B.Y. won the award 75% of the time he was with the organization makes me wonder—Should it be renamed? The Len Eshmont and Bryant Young Award?

I would be lying if I wrote that this award means more to my Dad than a Super Bowl title (B.Y. has one from the 1996 season!) but to him, it points out what is most valuable in a teammate and athlete.

When my Dad broke his femur in February, I was looking for words and ways to make him feel a little better. I reminded him that B.Y broke his right leg as well. He reminded me that B.Y. suffered a non-compound fracture of the tibia and fibula of his right leg when teammate Ken Norton's helmet crashed into him. I apologized to my Dad for conflating their injuries, but I did remind him that B.Y. came back to play nine more solid seasons in the Red and Gold. I think he liked the comparison. 

This Facebook activity says "no explanations, no reviews—only pics." When it comes to B.Y. I don't think an explanation is necessary; the reasons I am a fan are obvious (and how much do I love that he met his wife at Notre Dame?!). But part of the joy of sports / being a sports fan is the discovery and sharing of connections that aren't so obvious. For example, my admiration for B.Y. connects me to my Dad, the person who has instilled my love of sport more than anyone. He has been one of my greatest teachers when it comes to football, tennis, sports stats and fandom. What people might not know is that he often says the same about me. For example, i
n reading further about B.Y. I came to learn part of his story that my father did not know. I knew I could be the teacher, but I wasn't sure if he could handle the content.

On October 11, 2016 Bryant and Kristin Young's oldest son, Bryant Colby Young II died of pediatric cancer. Colby—as he was known—had a brain tumor the size of a golf ball. Though it was removed, the cancer was too far gone. His story is captured in this video here. I urge you to watch it.

This is one of the most tragic and yet beautiful tributes I have seen. The love of the Young family and their sincere, deep faith in Christ is what allowed them to endure his death and celebrate his life. Colby loved football and basketball, but his passion was cooking for his family. He carried a profound wisdom beyond his years. I have a feeling he was a good brother to his sisters and took some ribbing from his little brothers. He looked up to his father and it's apparent that his father looks up to him then and now. The Young family's willingness to carry this cross, to surrender and to offer their testimony is pure gift for all of us. I wish more people knew of BY and Kristin's story. Please share the video.

During COVID, I have found that I have needed a good cry around every four or five days. Inevitably, something will cause the storm to break and I'm able to let out disappointment, loss, sadness, fear and anxiety. If you are in need of a lightning bolt to get the flood to break, let it be Colby's story. He is  no doubt with God in heaven, doing all the things that he once loved to do. The video closes with these words from John's Gospel. Thank you Colby for your witness to the Gospel and the love of Christ. 

Photo Credits
All B&W photos are from Kristin M. Young's website

Monday, August 24, 2020

Just One: A Great Approach in Sports and Spirituality

I don't know about you, but I have needed my faith now more than ever. In the Religion of Sport "Stephen vs. The Game: Season 2, Episode 5 on Faith" Curry says "I think my faith is more about the personal relationship rather than following a certain tradition or religious practice.” Though I know his words resonate with many, they are not true for me. One important way I practice my Catholic faith is through participation in Sunday Mass. Thanks to communal, public worship, I hear the word of God, I listen to how it speaks to us today, I receive the Eucharist, I pray and I sing. I imagine not much of this is resonating with anyone right now as most public church gatherings have been closed since March. However, I write with "just one" invitation..."just one" suggestion. My hope it that "just one" person will take it.

As soon as shelter in place took hold, I joined the Boles family in watching mass online. My dear friend Eileen had heard about Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD and their regular streaming service to worship online. Through even more technology—Facetime— together we watched Sunday liturgy in our respective homes. We each began by lighting a candle and I was able to see how their family brought the rituals of the Mass into their living room. It was a joy for me to see how much they dig the music and share in the sign of peace in a new way. Turning on and tuning in to mass has been a wonderful way to begin the Sabbath. Truly, we have been nourished by the outstanding homilies. Thank you Father Michael White! 

I went to this online service for two reasons. One, Eileen, Thomas and James invited me to join them. Second, I was curious about this Church of the Nativity. It is the subject of "Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter." Whereas so many Catholic parishes in the US are on life support, consolidating and closing, Nativity is ever growing and teaching other parishes how they have and continue to do it. The book is fantastic; it is honest, optimistic and surprising. I highly recommend this great read! 

If the Boles family had not asked me to join them, I'm not sure I would have started going to on-line mass. I hope I would have followed the direction of my local parish, but I don't know if I would have stayed with it. An invitation always makes a significant difference. It takes "Just one...."

This however, is where the story takes a new turn. Easter Sunday at Church of the Nativity brought a different schedule. A close friend from Notre Dame invited me to join him for mass, via Zoom, with our mutual friend Father Tom Doyle, C.S.C. I know Father Tom from my time in the Alliance for Catholic Education. We hold a number of friends in common, many of who are on the Sunday Zoom mass. Seeing everyone in their respective homes simply adds to the joy of what has become a true virtual community. Because of  Father Tom's beautiful spirituality, his story telling, his ability to make us laugh and give certain suspects a hard time, I honestly look forward to beginning my Sunday with my 8:00 a.m. mass. 

The core group of attendees are Father Tom's classmates and friends. The majority of these men swam for the Fighting Irish. Their coach, Tim Welsh is a frequent lector and weekly e-communicant. If this isn't an example of Sports and Spirituality, I don't know what is. I have thought many times that I hope we can one day have mass, in person together.

I gave a talk this last week entitled "Seven Things I Learned from online mass." Father Tom and Father White have modeled ways for me as a teacher to build community. I'm enriched. I am grateful. I am blessed. Every week, I have invited "Just One" person to log-in and attend with us. I do this because I believe in the movement. I think it's one for both sports and spirituality.

Adam Schupak, editor of NCGA magazine wrote:

Speaking of healthy, golf is one of the healthiest and safest ways to enjoy some fresh air and be active as we deal with the realities imposed by COVID-19, so get out and play!....While you're at it, why not bring a newbie to join you? My friend Bill Gierring offers his own solution to "growing the game." His grassroots solution calls for each golfer to introduce "Just One" new person to the game.

In a five year stretch, he introduced golf to five different people. Four of them became weekend warriors, one joined a country club and his niece started a local league for new women golfers. They all started playing for different reasons—health, the joy of competition, to meet new friends.

"I didn't share any magic message, because I don't have any," he said. "I was encouraging and I did share with them how much I love the game." 

We all start for different reasons, but we all continue because golf finds a way to fill a place in our hearts and souls."

The message and philosophy of "Just One" as it relates to golf resonates with me and my faith. I don't have a magic message. I have loved being a part of two virtual faith communities. I will continue to invite "Just One" person a week to log in at a 8:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. Growing the faith has never been up to me—that is God's work....but one of my favorite sports stats is the assist. So here is the information for Church of the Nativity. Give it a shot OR share with me your own story of online worship during this time.

Photo Credits.
Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter
Father Tom
ND Swimming
Boles Family Peace!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

An Open Letter to the University of Notre Dame Student Body re: COVID-19

At noon today, a friend informed me that Father Jenkins, President at the University of Notre Dame was hosting a press conference. I expected an announcement about football and instead I came to learn the following. 

Father John said

"We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in your first weeks back on campus. After a .03% positive rate for our testing before students returned to campus, just 33 positives for nearly 12,000 tests, we've now had 147 positive cases at our testing site on campus. The spike in cases is very serious, and we must take serious steps to address it," said Jenkins Tuesday evening. "Upon receiving recent results, we began to make plans to send you home and continue instruction online as we did last spring. However, with the advice and encouragement of Dr. Mark Fox, we have decided to take steps short of sending students home, at least for the time being, while protecting the health and safety of the campus community. For at least the next two weeks, we will move undergraduate classes to remote instruction, close public space on campus, and restrict residence halls to residents only. Off-campus students should remain in your residences off-campus, associate with housemates only, and not come to campus for this period. We must be diligent in wearing masks, keeping distance, washing hands and completing the daily health check. We previously set a limit for any gathering at 20 people. The limit now will be 10 people, always wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. The objective of these temporary restrictions is to contain the spread of the virus so that we can get back to in-person instruction. If these steps are not successful, we will have to send students home, as we did last spring. 

Please take care of yourself and others by carefully following our health protocols and challenge friends and classmates to do the same. The virus is a formidable foe. For the past week, it has been winning. Let us, as the Fighting Irish, join together to contain it. We ask as always, for the intercession of Notre Dame, Our Lady, and for God's help. 

Many people have said  "it was just a matter of time" and that it was "bound to happen." My sentiments, however, are different.  You and I might not agree, but based on what I have learned, I believe this is what the student body must do. And so I write this post as an open letter to the student body—the men and women who say "we are ND."

Yes, I am disappointed. No, I do not think the University was arrogant or "dumb" to have students return to campus in early August for in-person classes. Indeed, I am angry at the students who ignored norms and protocols that we all must follow. Truly, sadness filled my heart for over 11,000+ students who remain healthy and hopeful for a semester on campus. But, if I believe in Notre Dame and its student body in the way I say that I do—or at least want to—I can't sit with cynicism. Pointing fingers leaves me nowhere. Now is not the time to assume anything. I reviewed the decisions of the University and I stand behind the leadership. AND I want Notre Dame to live up to its name. Yes we are the Fighting Irish, but the motto of the Alumni Association speaks even louder to me. And as an alumna, I want students to know what we have been challenged to be: A Force for Good.

As an educational institution and a community of faith, students are called to make great sacrifices in the days and weeks ahead. As a Christian, this task is not unfamiliar to me. For the sake of the common good, the greater good—and at this point me own good!—I am willing to put the needs of others before mine. I must die to self so that others may live. The leadership at the University has made this call loud and clear, it is for the students to shoulder and share the same burden. 

Most people I know do not think this is remotely possible. While it may be unlikely for young men and women to forgo social events, people and places that require self-discipline and intentionality, this two-week window has been offered as an opportunity to demonstrate that what you have been afforded is worth fighting for. I have always believed if you ask little of young people, you will get it. While you never want to set the bar impossibly high, when we set it low...the results speak for themselves. Maybe we need to be very specific. Continuing to engage in the hook-up culture, binge drinking, and partying can and will lead to a semester in San Francisco and not South Bend. 

Truth be told, South Bend is a reason you have been able to return to classes and campus, period. Matt Fortuna of The Athletic said, "Here's the thing about Notre Dame: For the most part, it's been proactive with everything related to COVID-19.Small campus. Smart people. Brought students back early. Transparent (see the dashboard). It's the closest thing to a bubble that exists among FBS schools. And yet... " that bubble isn't totally impenetrable. 

For years, I have heard alumni speak of what it means to be a Notre Dame man. According to the Wall Street Journal, "The rash of cases has been linked to at least two off-campus parties, and the majority of students testing positive are senior undergraduates, mostly male, said school spokesman Paul Browne." I am certain when Father Hesburgh referred to an alum as a Notre Dame man, he was not referring to an individual who put others are risk. A Notre Dame man does not recklessly pursue his own whims and desires above the needs of others. I encourage the men of Notre Dame to wear that mantle and honor the legacy of the Notre Dame men who have gone before you. Step it up and make better decisions.

As a member of the Notre Dame Women Connect board, I would like to give more thought and promote what it means to be a Notre Dame woman. I have a strong sense that this ideal means that we look to Our Lady. She exhibited great strength of mind and heart to carry her Son, Our Lord amidst controversy and confusion. She stood by him even as he carried his cross. She was the first disciple; she is the greatest of all saints. I urge the women of Notre Dame to look to Mary as a model of strength and courage in the days and weeks ahead.

I am a high school teacher and an athletic director. I want nothing more than to be with students and to have them be with one another for their educational, spiritual, social and emotional well being. Wearing a mask, keeping socially distant, regularly washing hands and forgoing (college) norms are a small price to pay for the alternative, which we do not have this quarter and most likely this semester at St. Francis High School, where I work. Furthermore, as an educator, I am always in need of examples and exemplars. My message, belief and hopes have efficacy when I can point to those who have been a Force for Good by making the right decisions. We need you; I need you to show the world we can be different....and not because of empty promises or self-ordained prophecies...but rather because of thoughtful and careful choices.

In two weeks time, I might be wrong. This might be too idealistic. I have learned to let go and trust the powers that decide was is best for all. That being said, whether or not you identify as a Catholic Christian, or understand what it means to be a Notre Dame man or a Notre Dame woman, you have been asked "What would you fight for?" You have cheered "We are ND!" Now is the time to model the mission of the University you will one day call alma mater. I hope and pray you and your teachers stay healthy in body and spirit. You are in my prayers as is the leadership who has hope we truly might be a Force for Good in a world that needs it.

Post Script: It might be selfish on my part, but I needed to write this letter as much as I want students to read it. I stand behind my belief in the administration and in my hope for students. Someone has to believe in them, and so let it be me. Perhaps that is what it means to be a Notre Dame Woman....

I realize that no part of me wanting to change the virus can or does change it. And yet, this community showed up to campus testing 99.7% negative (yes, we are people of privilege!). That was inspiring to me.

Students already make high risk decisions all the time. I shudder when I think of my own irresponsible behavior with alcohol as an undergrad. Furthermore, the number of asymptomatic cases (Fauci has said between 20% to 40%...as high as 45%) makes this a tough part of the equation. What is at stake has not changed, it’s just that much more pressing... And to a large degree, though not entirely, it is in the hands of students now. In the meantime, my hands are held in prayer for the administration who has done more work than anyone will ever realize to get this semester off the ground and for students to help one another. Thank you. Anne Stricherz '96, Farley Hall

Photo Credits
Students on campus
ND Women Connect
Force for Good