When I was a kid I would play basketball on the dirt court in my backyard at all hours and in all weather. My grandfather wired floods high on the house so I could play under the lights — at least until my parents came out and told me to knock it off, that it was time to come inside, do my homework and give the neighbors a break.
I fully intended to be a basketball star, along the lines of John Havlicek, someone who did everything well and did it quietly. (For those under 50, Google him.)
I also fully intended to grow to 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, which seemed to be a good size for a basketball star (it was the height of Havlicek and other players I admired). Also it had a nice ring to it. I could imagine a play-by-play announcer reciting those figures when I ran onto the court. It was settled.
I can’t recall exactly when I unilaterally set my biological course, determining my ultimate physical growth despite genetic factors indicating otherwise. I mean, I don’t believe the grandfather who installed those lights was 5-4 (at his peak, but not when I knew him). His daughter, my mother, was similar in stature.
In fact, no one in my immediate family tree, as far as I knew, had ever reached 6 feet, much less 6’5”. Not sure if I was counting on vegetables or Funyuns or just what to spark the difference-making growth spurt. I’m pretty sure I never truly believed I would get to be 6’5”, 210, simply by wanting it to happen, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. Little kids can dream.
As I waited for the Funyuns to kick in, I kept practicing, and I have to say I became pretty good, as far as backyard players go. I could shoot from most anywhere, and you wouldn’t believe all of the game-winning shots I hit in the cold and the dark with the dirt flying under my feet.
Alas, I never even made the school basketball team, but not for lack of trying. I came close a couple of times, including in ninth grade when the coach made the final roster cuts and posted the list of team members and my name was nowhere to be found, no matter how many times I examined that sheet of paper. The coach called me into his office and told me to hang in there, that I was the last person cut and should keep at it. That made me feel better for about 10 minutes.
For a long time, those annual exercises in futility were painful, for sure. I was convinced if there ever was a victim, it was I. The allure of teenage grievances is strong.
But as the years went by and perspective crept in, I came to view those times in a somewhat different light. Making a clear-eyed assessment, I came to a more honest conclusion: I could indeed shoot, but considering my lack of speed, complete absence of jumping skills and the inability to guard anything that moved faster than a mailbox, I was lucky to have made it as far as I did (although I greatly enjoyed playing in pickup games back then when I’d hit a few long shots and my new acquaintances would ask, “What school do you play for?”)
Alas, I never got to 6’5” (though I did reach 210, and I’m glad not to be there any longer).
The 6’5” pipe dream was never anything more than wishful thinking, harmless and irrelevant. Its unfulfillment affected no one else (although it did allow them to block my shots).
On the other hand, what happens when less benign, dark fantasies fester? How about last week’s scene of ugliness at the U.S. Capitol, where a deranged mob subscribing to an alternate reality, fueled by grievance and stoked by falsehoods, attacked America. They threatened lawmakers (chants of “Hang Mike Pence” were heard), assaulted police and members of the news media (they scratched “Murder the media” on a door), paraded a Confederate flag through the halls of Congress and erected gallows, noose and all, within sight of the Capitol.
Following their misguided passions fomented by a narrative that doesn’t jibe with facts, they managed to do what foreign invaders hadn’t in more than 200 years. Congratulations.
This is a hell of a path we’ve gone down. We might want to turn around. A good place to start would be sharing a moment of realization that simply wishing for something with all of your heart won’t necessarily make it so. Likewise, just because someone spouts nonsense over and over again, despite evidence to the contrary, doesn’t make it real. A high frequency of twaddle-spewing doesn’t equal veracity.
You can choose what you believe, of course, but choose wisely, and never lose sight of the actual truth.
And the truth is, I’m 5’11”.