Set Point

I played tennis with my children today. It’s the second time we’ve tried it. If tennis players were rated like meat Agassi would be well-done and I’d be rare-minus. Or maybe just raw. I could hit the ball, sometimes, but I have no idea how to direct its path. None. Even my best effort compels the ball 90 degrees farther to the right, the left, higher or lower than I intend.

Nonetheless, I apply all my enthusiasm to the task. I am aware of my complete and total lack of ability, but I have fun anyway. It does bring back every miserable day of being picked last in PE, but I’m past the desire to be good at something I can’t be and I just enjoy the fresh air and family time.

My son, however, does not find it funny at all. He doesn’t want me on his team or the opponent’s. He doesn’t want me to play. I’m ruining the game. If I hit the ball they have to start over. If I miss the ball they have to start over. It is driving him crazy. I remind him of the importance of good sportsmanship, but it doesn’t matter. They’re trying to make points and I am messing it all up. Pretty soon Robert doesn’t want me to play either. It doesn’t matter that I’ve given each play my best shot, I’m no good and it effects the whole game. They benched me.

I wonder if Americans insistence on trying everything, having faith in the underdog and overcoming overwhelming odds has made people here too competitive. Maybe we’re all ultimately failing because we can never live up to these impossible standards – namely, to be good at everything, or at least a genius at one thing. Ordinary is definitely out of the question. It’s insufficient. Satisfactory isn’t even satisfactory at all. It’s really only so-so. So-so isn’t good enough for anything.

Great-grandma says that our generation has the wrong priorities. She believes in faith first, family second, self last. She mentioned that lately people seem to be living the list backwards. Self first, family second, faith last. It’s no way to be happy, she insists.

I guess I can’t comfortably dictate that everyone live with these preset priorities. However, I can see her point. I can see how it could be hard to satisfy self first without entirely sacrificing faith and family along the way. The self has so many physical pulls it’s hard to satisfy self without serious implications. I imagine that’s why monks have to isolate. This world is filled with too many worldly goals, temptations and arbitrary values. Choices for the self are inherently gratifying but payback for the other two are harder to tally.

I wonder who dies happier, rich men or poor? Faithful or atheist? Hero or ordinary man? More importantly, as the harvest moon reminds me, who lives happier?

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