Andy Spies and I were cut from the same cloth, and cut from the same teams. Both of us misspent our high school careers smoking exotic vegetables, and hanging out in the nicotine-stained, non-athletic sections of the student body. According to Andy and me, libraries were made for napping, and classrooms for daydreaming. Sprung from families that had long since fallen apart, we both unconsciously called a moratorium on proper adolescent development. Instead, like fugitives escaping detection, we tucked ourselves into the crowd, and for the most part, kept our pain and personalities anonymous. The one place that had the power to awaken what was left of our childhood exuberance, and pull us from our self-imposed suspended animation, was gym class.
It was in gym class that Andy and I discovered that we both shared a common interest in hardwood and hoops. Furthermore, we discovered that we both loved a particular brand of basketball as practiced by the likes of Pete Marovich, and Doctor Jay. Why throw a bounce pass, when a little behind-the-back magic could get the job done? Why execute a run-of-the-mill cross-over dribble, when a between the leg, spin move could bedazzle a defender? Back in the 1970’s, “showboating” was not a trait scouted by coaches. But neither Andy, nor I were cut from any high school team due to our flamboyant styles. We self-selected out of the system when it became apparent to us that Marlboros and wind sprints don’t go together.
Come to find out, although the flesh was weakened, the spirit still nurtured hoop dreams. In gym class, my previous experience logging 10,000 driveway hours of roundball manifested itself again. Once we donned our ripe gym shirts, and laced up our Chuck Taylors, Andy and I would put on a point guard/ shooting guard clinic.
While stripping a pass, shooting a jump shot, or executing a pinpoint pass, I would keep an eye out for the varsity basketball coach on the sidelines. When I thought he was watching, I would play that much harder. Until typing these words, I never told another human being my secret wish. I wanted him to notice me, pull me aside, and say, “Why didn’t you ever go out for the team? You have real talent.” Who knows how his “noticing” could have changed the trajectory of my high school career?
This Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 2: 22-40) has me reflecting upon the importance of noticing. In that selection, the prophets Simeon, and Anna glimpsed something in the child of a peasant couple who were performing their religious duties in the temple. They both recognized the essence of that little boy, and had the courage to step forward and proclaim that to his parents. The story indicated that Mary and Joseph were profoundly affected by these encounters. By the simple act of noticing, Anna and Simeon changed the way Mary and Joseph thought of their son, and their roles in his life. Who knows how their noticing changed the trajectory of Jesus’ life, and by extension, the Christian tradition?
Five years ago, history came alive for my daughter, Annalise. An inspired professor asked her to fill the role of Abraham Lincoln defending his executive orders in a mock court of law. Her hard work, and insightful arguments caught his eye. He noticed in her a special talent for debate, and made it a point to provide that feedback. In noticing something in my daughter, he called it out of her. Soon, she and a friend started a debate club within her school. When it came time to apply for college, Annalise submitted applications to colleges with strong pre-law programs. She was accepted into one of them with plenty of financial help to make it possible. As that college career comes to a close, Annalise is preparing for the LSAT exam and a gap year of service teaching low socio-economic children. Perahps she will “notice” something in one of them during her year before law school. In the noticing, maybe a new debate team will arise in the inner-city? Perhaps a child will simply feel cared for, and my daughter’s life will be enriched by a new relationship?
As I look back over my daughter’s experience through the lens of this Sunday’s third reading, I notice a high school history professor who took the time to notice a talented young student. By noticing, that history professor forever changed the history of a young woman’s life.
Many schools of developmental psychology converge on one point: there has never been a self-made man or woman. Wherever you find what looks like individual achievement, or accomplishment, there is always the unseen hand of a person (or persons) supporting and buoying up that individual. Our spiritual tradition names the energy flowing through these relationships, “divinity.” One important way that the creative power of God works through people is in the “noticing” of people’s signature strengths, attributes, and talents. This week, would you be willing to allow God’s creativity to flow through you? Will you make it a point to notice someone?