The world seemed to stop as Missy slowly reached for the softball on the ground. Felt for a grip. Then raised it up above her head and THREW.
“Woohoo!” “All right!” “Way to go, champ!”
On this day, on this ballfield, it was a moment of triumph to equal any World Series ever played.
This marked yet another season-ending game for the Niwot Nightmares, a “Softball for All” team that Missy, my wife’s developmentally disabled aunt, has played for since its founding. The season ran a little later than usual – torrential downpours in June had a habit of washing out games – but otherwise, the same Monday evening joy and enthusiasm reigned.
If you’ve never seen the Nightmares and their league-mates in action on a summer’s evening, I highly recommend it. It’s a little different than anything you’ll experience at Coors Field. There’s no screaming vendors, no multi-million-dollar contracts … heck, there aren’t even any outs.
Instead, you get a game that moves at the pace of each player. You get friends coming together and cheering each other on, including the ones on different teams. Most of all, you get a sense of fun that has kept families coming back for years.
And when Missy steps on that field, she does it with the pride of an All-Star. Heck, she’s tipped her helmet to the crowd so many times – sometimes in a single at-bat – that we started nicknaming her “Hollywood.” For her, it’s both a game and a celebration.
She’s taking pride in what she can do. Pushing it, even. Not with an eye to someone else’s performance, but with an eagerness to meet the moment.
I try to do the same. I’m not always successful.
I suspect most of us aren’t, regardless of our level of ability.
We learn early on to judge what we can do and “stick to what we’re good at.” It’s a toxic lesson but a hard one to avoid. Everyone loves success and hates failure, and getting good at something requires a lot of failure.
And so, we diminish ourselves. We learn not to step out on limbs so that we’ll avoid embarrassment … and as a result, we never really learn to fly.
I’m not just talking about acquiring skills. These days, most people have at least heard of “imposter syndrome,” the conviction that everyone else has it figured out and that sooner or later they’ll realize you’re faking it. It’s an affliction that’s not limited to the obscure – the author Neil Gaiman was once shocked to discover that Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, felt out of place in a room full of accomplished individuals because “I just went where I was sent.”
“And I felt a bit better,” Gaiman famously wrote later. “Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did.”
We’re all vulnerable. We’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got. When we understand that, I think we become a little easier on each other. And on ourselves as well.
And then, only then, can we really grow.
I’m not saying we’re all going to turn into figures of legend and envy. But we’ll find what we need for the season we’re in. And maybe a little joy besides.
Move at your pace. Give yourself permission to discover. Meet the moment with what you have, whatever it may hold.
And if that moment leads you to a celebration with friends on a hot summer night … so much the better.