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  • Writer's pictureEric Knabel

Thoughts From Six Feet Away: Play Your Game!

It’s that time of year, the time where pedestrian sports fans become fanatics for the aptly named “March Madness.” We fill out our brackets and enter office pools, and those of us who boldly proclaim we’ve been “watching all year” find our brackets busted, playing second fiddle to Barb from accounting who correctly picked the stunning first-round upset because “their mascot was cuter.” I once timed a procedure to be done the Wednesday before the NCAA Tournament started, choosing to take the rest time to watch every game of the first two rounds, a total of 48 games. I heard basketballs dribbling in my sleep for weeks.

But I think the pandemic has changed me. Either that, or it could be due to the fortunes of my alma mater, who has now wallowed in mediocrity for so long that making the Tournament is now considered an accomplishment, rather than a foregone conclusion. Regardless of the cause, I’m reminded of a time when I was in medical school attending, of all places, an Oklahoma football game. I was coming back from the end zone concession stand when I saw a guy wearing a shirt with perhaps the most profound advice ever given to me by an article of clothing:

“In the game of life, seats on the 50 don’t interest me. I want to be IN THE GAME.”

After my team was eliminated the other night, I once again reflected on that statement. Even prior to the tournament, my son asked, “What if we don’t make it to the NCAA?” And before I could contemplate my answer, I said, “I guess I’ll take those two weeks and do something else with my life.” As I said before, I don’t know what changed me, but I know that I don’t place value on things like I once did. Do I want my team to win? Of course. But I’ve gotten to the place where I really don’t give a damn about anyone else’s. CBS slings their compelling story lines, and while some of them are inspiring, it’s not going to get me to sit back down. I really couldn’t care less about how Coach K’s career ends.

I’ve sat at the 50-yard line long enough…I’m going in the game.

Now, I don’t want to come across as that guy. I have friends who still religiously watch their sporting events with the same fervor we did as young men, and that’s great. If you ask me, there isn’t enough “letting people live their life” going on in this world (or it’s corollary, “mind your own damn business”). Something inside me longs for more than passive participation in things. In fact, the more I think about it, the message has been delivered by a multitude of seemingly random events throughout my life, strung together into one consistent message. I’ve reached the point where I’ve begun to question what I want my deeds to say about how I’ve chosen to live (ie. I’m getting older, and I have less time to waste than I used to).

One of those “random” events was a decision I made about ten years ago, when I decided that accumulating things only creates a desire to cling tightly to those things and takes one’s eyes off the important stuff. I began to focus on improving myself, something that couldn’t be taken away. I began to take on new interests, question old assumptions, and overall improve the time that passed. Two things happened when I did this – first, I became impossible to shop for at Christmas. And second, I turned off the TV. I have a list of about 12 shows that I’ve been told I “need to watch”; at this rate, I should be done sometime around the year 2050, provided no new content is released ever again.

I’ve even started to double down and remove myself from most of social media. Turns out the old adage is true…ignorance is bliss. The irony that you wouldn’t even be reading this without social media is not lost on me, but promoting these posts is about all I do in that realm. I get the same question now as I did when I stopped watching the news – “Aren’t you afraid you’re not going to know what’s going on?” Folks, that’s PRECISELY why I stopped! Maybe you see that as sticking my head in the sand, but if the world is blowing itself apart, I’d prefer not to worry about it until it actually starts happening. Plus, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that if events are big enough to impact my daily life, someone is going to be all up in my business about it (again, the unfortunate side effects of a “mind your own damn business” deficiency).

In the end, “watching the news” has become equivalent to “watching the Super Bowl” or “watching The Batchelor” in terms of value it adds to my life. If it gives you enjoyment, great. But for those of us it doesn’t, we’ll just walk away, but we’ll make sure that we refill the plate of pizza rolls on our way out. I’m now learning Spanish. I’m trying to convince myself that learning the guitar isn’t impossible. I’m writing blogs that tens of you read every week. I’ve gotten off the curb and become a participant. It’s funny, I always thought I’d miss that stuff more than I do, yet here I am, not necessarily “killing it,” but maybe wounding it bad enough to put it in the hospital.

Who would have guessed that an unseasonably warm Oklahoma day in 1998 would produce such dividends? And from a T-shirt on the back of a sweaty hillbilly, no less. I’m not here to evangelize to anyone, but if that doesn’t make you believe in a Divine Presence, I don’t know what does.

Thanks for giving me the conch for a few minutes. Hope everyone finds fulfillment in whatever they choose to invest their time over the next week or two. Keep me posted on who wins the Tournament, will you? As always, be excellent to each other, and…

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