I’m subjected to prejudice daily because of my condition: aging. After jogging yesterday I leaned over to catch my breath, like I’ve done for the last forty years. A car swerved to the side of the road and a young man asked if I was okay. “Okay? Am I okay? Best shape of my life, you fetus. I just ran three miles. Get lost. Go to Calcutta and feed the hungry, you no good Samaritan!” I would have yelled some more, but my left arm started to feel numb. Why didn’t he give me credit for jogging? Well, I call it jogging even though today I was passed by a woman with a walker. But let’s be fair– she got extra bounce from the tennis balls.
My own age-based prejudice raised its ugly head several years ago. I was 47 years old talking to a colleague, Joe. He was fifty-one and said, “You and me, you know, we’re the same age.” I thought, “No way! I am not your age, pal. I’m in my forties; you’re in your fifties. I could get another college degree by the time I reach your age. I could visit every country in the world. I could have four kids and one on the way.”
Another age-based indignity occurred recently during a game of pick-up basketball with guys in their twenties. After playing for fifteen minutes no one had passed me the ball. I was wide open. No one was guarding me. They were probably thinking, “He’s old; he can’t shoot.” How dare they! I can shoot. I’ve got game.”
Then I caught myself. I made a positive pivot and committed to being the happiest player on the court. It’s not whether I get to shoot, win or lose, but did I enjoy the game? I play basketball to have fun, to move, to get in shape. What good is it to get all bent out of shape? Look at what I can do. I can play defense. I can get a rebound. I can steal the ball– from my own teammate! I am the master of my mirth. I am the boss of my ball-playing bliss.
Recently, I joined a league for guys over fifty. Most of the players are over sixty. They call me kid. We spend more time getting dressed for the game then playing the game: put on jock straps, pop an Advil; put on kneepads, pop an Advil; wrap on ankle supports, pop an Advil; put on a headband, pop an Advil–and a Claritan in case somebody opens a window. We walk out looking like mummies. Our games vaguely resemble basketball. We scour the court with the same agility that the old electric football players displayed when you plugged the game in. We all end up stuck in a corner wiggling. But it is very exciting to watch guys over fifty play basketball. Everyone is on the edge of their seats hoping we make it–up the court.
I was upset the other day because I didn’t start, even though I consider myself one of the top three players. I went back into my “poor me” routine. Again I caught myself and said, “Paul calm down, you can handle this! Look at what you can do.” So I had fun from the bench. I cheered the guys on and it worked: the additional exertion caused one of them to get angina.
As I focus on joy and see how I sometimes lose sight of it, what I regret is letting results and expectations matter more than my own happiness. Many guys are miserable when they play because they only focus on winning. After I missed a lay-up one teammate, shouted, “You’ve got to make those!” Oh, really? Is that the idea. To get the ball through the hoop? Wow, I learn something new every day.
After I missed my lay-up the other team scored and won. They were celebrating, and I rejoiced with them. Let’s face it: they couldn’t have done it without me.
Winning is for losers, too.