They decided to vet you. To ask if you are serious about your mission. Meanwhile, you are fresh out of concern.
You are going to play the guitar, and that’s all.
You decide to sing out as well, play the chord you know, and not rue the one you don’t know. If you are found wanting, so be it. At least you were found.
Days pass. Weeks follow.
Then the parts of you that met, the parts that define you, reach an agreement. You mean it. Your cause is — it exists.
They conspire to grant you their blessing.
Momentum leads to moments of grace
Their mitzvah is why you show up for your goals long enough to matter.
It transforms what was once a stingy taskmaster, or a chore, into a stringed instrument of personal revelation.
Barre chords that were palm aching failures are now unlocked and effortless. The once nasty ring notes caused by imperfect fingering sound like music.
Your fingers no longer disobey. Instead, they make patterns clocked years ago while watching your musical betters.
I’m familiar with the state called flow, where we feel our best and perform our best. I know what I must do at this point.
Flow follows focus
In the sweet spot of sense memory, good fortune, and the now I must not pay attention. This fragile oasis vanishes if seen.
Only spectators can observe the rare air of high performance. The one who does must do and that only.
I assign my monkey mind the job of deriving the quadratic equation. Fail to task your monkey, and it will task you.
A less self-indulgent description of this moment is the challenge/skills ratio. It’s the balance between the difficulty of a task and your ability to complete it.
There are reams on how to manifest this state. That is not my mission. It is crucial to notice when you find yourself there, though.
It is so easy to miss those minutes when it’s your turn to be as excellent as you can be.
Struggle comes first
My vivid minutes, the ones when it was my turn, those happened in New York City.
I spent a summer trying to get picked for a basketball game. Every day I’d leave my buddy’s couch on the West Side and head for the Cage, a court near NYU.
The bench of the Cage became my new home. I sat there. That’s all I did.
I had more of a shot at being appointed to the Supreme Court than I had of being picked to play on this court. I went anyway.
Consistently, for three hot months, I showed up. I waited. I did not notice my wait. Then one day, an alpha had to leave the game early.
The afternoon had fought the good fight. The evening was waiting in the wings. For now, though, there was still light. There was also shame.
A man known as Joke Dude by my internal monologue stood in front of me and asked the invisible people near me if they wished to play. They said no, thank you.
Guys on the court were losing vital organs from laughing so hard. Finally, Joke Dude grew bored with his badinage and said, “Ok, Little Man, let’s go.”
It helps to have a model
Little Man’s heart was so full of joy he cared not about size. I resolved to do my best John Stockton impression.
Stockton was the patron saint of NBA players who were not born on Krypton and thus capable of superpowers under Earth’s yellow sun.
Fundamentals were his strong suit — layups and defense.
My strong suit in this game turned out to be dribbling up the court.
Once I crossed the midpoint, I would hand the ball off to someone with more height, fast-twitch fibers, and basketball IQ.
Then the universe showed me the way. Someone missed a shot. The ball snapped into my hands with urgency.
In the zone
I caught it, paused, then dropped a hard head fake. Alas, Mr. College had not read his Newton, so he did not know what happens to an object in motion. (It stays in motion).
He fell to the ground trying to defy the law of inertia in response to my crossover.
I glance at Mr. College as I drift past him. I do not see him, though. I am focused on my peripheral. When I see my slot, I look up from Mr. C as if deciding.
Suddenly, I accelerate very hard for my opening.
I catch Captain Hops and Joe Sweat by surprise. They were supposed to guard the hoop, but I was no hazard to them. I have a step on them, but that hardly matters.
My attempt at physical sleight of hand is no match for the physiology of the moment.
Had Dorothy Parker been watching us, she would have said that if Captain Hops and Joe Sweat were laid end to end, they would measure about thirteen and a half feet.
These men are more like almost seven feet tall. Dorothy’s eyes are too stingy.
Even so, I drive hard like Ice Man Gervin inside the paint. A wall of brown named Messrs. Sweat and Hops levitates then seems to hang there.
The hover is always like magic to me.
I raise my left hand, prepare to leap, and deploy a finger roll. I commit hard to this bit. I know that Joke Dude cuts right on a fast break. It’s because of the knee he favors when broadcasting his signature slam.
At the very apogee of my Gervin leap, I slide the ball across my body and push it to my right. I see a thousand flashbacks as I do so.
Me, fifteen, distraught that I’ve had no growth spurt. Me, demanding my parents buy me human growth hormone.
My parents' guffaws, so hard that they too, like the guys earlier, are about to lose vital organs in a fit of mirth. Hormones, when they can barely afford school fee moans. That was my father’s idea of a joke.
Me, working this move over a thousand times, just in case. That was my father’s idea of a man. Then I do not see anything.
I listen for the sound of a ball hitting a fence, for the sound of failure — but it never arrives. What I hear is the snap of a ball against two palms. I can run no further. So I stop.
Like tears in rain
I stand at the fence behind the hoop and catch my breath. Across the way, a little boy holds his mom’s hand at the crosswalk.
The street lights shine. I wonder why I never see them switch on. There is a battle on the court behind me. I do not look.
Then I hear a clang. It is a decisive sound. I check over my shoulder — Joke Dude hangs off the rim and howls at the sky. It is the sound of victory.
I say a prayer I do not mean, “Lord, take me now.” I ask this only because it felt like my heart would burst. It was full of all the good things. This moment is as right as it can get. I am mistaken, though. There is more.
As we run back up the court, Joke Dude says, “Ay Big Man, Big Man, good looking out.” His eyes meet mine, and then just like that, just like life, it was all over.
But it was grand.