I go to the park today to shoot baskets and there, standing before me, is the 12-year-old version of myself. He’s a portly Asian lad, round-faced, adorned in attire that fits long to atone for a paunchy torso, and cursed by the unfortunate hairstyle that plagues all Asian lads, the poof-fro.
He hoists a basketball up to the rim with all the comedic effort you’d expect from a portly Asian lad, and in between shots he takes pulls from a plastic water bottle like he’s just returned home from the desert.
He sprints after misses, flings airballs from beyond the three-point arc, and practices the shot before the shot by flicking his wrist in pantomime, all without ever harrumphing over the persistence of failure upon his stabs at success.
I’m telling you, if some forlorn producer desperate for a script were to make a movie of my life today, he’d cast this kid to play me during my formative years. The kid is the spitting image of yours truly. A chubby, happy-go-lucky, try-hard, completely oblivious to the fact that wearing shorts every single day isn’t considered fashionable. This was me. We may as well have been twins.
I have the desire to walk up to the kid, put my arm around him, and tell him it will all turn out okay. Middle school might be rough, and the cool kids may pick on you from time to time, but eventually it’ll all work out for the best. Well, mostly. You’ll never get to six-feet, kid, and even as an adult the cool kids might still pick on you. But beyond that, everything will turn out just fine.
As he puts up shot after shot all by himself, doing exactly what I’ve been doing since I was his age, his mom comes by to tell him it’s time to go. She walks to the car. He keeps shooting.
If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years, it’s that the euphoric feeling of putting a ball through a net has remained the same for me from childhood to adulthood. It never gets old. It never grows weary. I’ll always love it and that won’t change. The 12-year-old version of me on the other end of the court could probably speak to the same emotions.
The funny thing about being an adult is that in growing up, you’re generally expected to lose your sense of fun. Fun disappears with bills and jobs and 401Ks. Fun is for the immature. Maturity, on the other hand, is about buckling down and getting serious.
We don’t laugh nearly as much when we grow up. We become cognizant of the world around us, of the problems and crises our day to day lives are threatened by. We visualize war, we witness crime, our utopia is penetrated by the harshness of reality. Fun has no place in reality.
We go to work and our lives become fractions of seven. Five-sevenths of our time is spent behind a desk. Two-sevenths of our time is spent paying for the things we can afford now that we’ve devoted the majority of our seven-slice pie chart to working. We don’t enjoy what’s around us. We need more to distract us. Our fractions of seven become consumed by the ephemeral.
We follow a path and do what we’ve been programmed to do: we go to school, we go to work, we meet someone, we get married, we have kids, we retire, we die. And we all die. So don’t think it won’t happen to you. You’re no Thackery Binx.
We experience life but we don’t always live.
We get frustrated by the can’ts. We can’t have this, we can’t do that. The can’ts outweigh the cans. No one ever points out all the things we can do. Just the can’ts. Status is determined by limitations. It’s a barbed wire fence meant to keep out those who can’t. Our lives become defined by the frequency of can’ts. The fewer can’ts you have, the better you become. We criticize those with too many can’ts. We notice the can’ts in others. We judge by can’ts. Because we can.
We seek inspiration to bring meaning to our stagnancy. We look for it on television, in movies, in books and news articles. We crave stories of triumph against all odds to move us until the next story comes along. We fail to realize that we can be the inspiration we seek, that we can carve our own tales of success, that our happiness can be found internally, then brought to others through our passions, through our talents.
We look for the things that make us happy. We may find them, but we don’t always do them. Fun, remember, is something we grow out of. Fun, as it turns out, is a product of happiness. And so we forget that the things that make us happy are those passions, are those talents, and that when we live these passions and perform these talents we are inspiring the people around us to do the same. We may not have stories of courage or heroism to fall back on. We do, however, have the ability to move.
And so I put a ball through a hoop because I’m passionate about it. And I write because I love to write. And I see this kid who looks like me, doing the same things I did as a kid, and I can’t help but think (or perhaps I can) that if we all took a moment to remember how goofy we may have looked as children doing the things we loved that we’d take our lives a lot less seriously than we do right now. We wouldn’t be worried about the can’ts. We wouldn’t be following along vicariously within the context of someone else’s story. We wouldn’t divide our existence into fractions of seven. We would live the life we experience. We would be happy. And we’d be better for it.
There’s a saying that you should never get too high or too low. I don’t buy that. It reeks of apathy. Celebrate when the moment is high, cry when the moment is low. Just make sure you always find your way back to the middle sooner rather than later.
Be passionate because you can be.
Be talented because you are.
And when you wake up in the morning, whether you’re six or sixty, have fun. Forget about the world’s problems. Look in the mirror and make a face. Then go out and spread the fun you’re having to others. Smile. Joke. Laugh. Never take it too seriously.
This is your life. And if you enjoy it, you’ll find happiness.
The kid finally takes off. It’s time to leave. Mom isn’t having any more of these stall tactics. No more basketball tonight.
But as he goes, he doesn’t mope. He runs towards the parking lot with the same energy he displayed tracking down rebounds.
He exits the court with no regrets. He wasn’t perfect — in fact, he missed significantly more shots than he made — but he had fun.
Everyone has to go at some point. It’s about the time you have while you’re there that you can take with you. When it’s over, that’s all that really matters.
Have fun today.