By Paul Singley
The gawky teenager runs awkwardly down the court, sheepishly waits under the basket and hesitates before calling for the basketball.
All season long, players have tried in vain to feed him with passes, but time and again Jimmy has dropped the ball. As a special needs student, he is embraced by his peers for his uncanny work ethic. But to score a basket just doesn't appear in the cards.
This time would be different, though. Jimmy posts up, catches the pass and turns toward the hoop. A quicker, stronger and taller defender immediately swarms him and can easily block the shot. But the opponent realizes this may be Jimmy's only chance to score a basket. Without being obvious, the defender backs away and lets Jimmy shoot. The ball bounces off the backboard, off the front rim and drops in the bucket. Two points go on the board.
The crowd roars, realizing they have just witnessed Jimmy's first points of the season and possibly the shining moment in his recreational athletic career.
Though this vignette involves a player, a ball and a score, it has little to do with sport. It is about the graciousness of teenagers - a group that seldom gets recognized for its good deeds - and how a small moment in time can leave a lasting impression on the soul.
As Jimmy's coach, these are the moments for which I devote my time. It's not about wins and losses, it's about seeing kids succeed and rise above their expectations.
Over the past two weeks, I have pondered the power of the moment when Jimmy scored. I've wondered why it is that people don't choose to be as gracious as his defender on a regular basis. Why does it seem all we ever hear about is conflict or negativity?
We can blame the media for not covering enough positive stories. As a journalist, I too, am guilty of covering a fair amount of negative news, though I try, every day, to seek out the positive.
Or we can blame society for allowing our world to turn into one where conflicts are resolved through war and strife.
But I think the responsible person would also choose to blame himself or herself.
As human beings, too often we do not seek out those little moments in time when we can say we're proud to be part of this society.
We watch the eleven o'clock news and stay focused on the latest home invasion, murder or other story of misery. While it's important to know what is happening in society, even if it's negative, it's equally important to stay tuned to the positive: Millions of people helping to rebuild Haiti; the community of Cheshire rallying around Dr. William Petit after his wife and daughters were murdered during a home invasion; people who rescue abused animals and place them in happy and healthy homes.
These are just a few of the positive stories that can be found in the aftermath of bad news. People always seem to step up most during times of struggle, and it's important to notice those stories too. I'm trying hard to find them now, and I'm uncovering gems in everyday life.
I noticed two students from entirely different backgrounds helping each other with math homework after my communications class.
I noticed the man holding a door for an elderly woman; the student who never grasped the concept finally starting to learn; and the couple holding hands as they strutted down the hallway.
We call these the little moments, but once you see them, they make all a huge difference in your appreciation of the world and its people.
I figure we can all use some good in our lives considering that, according to researchers, we live in the second most unhappy state in America ahead of only New York. A recent study conducted by the University of Warwick in England discovered those results.
Think about that: New Orleans is still trying to overcome the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and yet the collective state spirit is happy as a clam (Louisiana ranked first in happy states per the study, which, interestingly enough, was conducted before the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras). We haven't seen a natural disaster of Katrina's magnitude in our state's history and yet we can't crack a smile?
It is my untested and unscientific theory that people would be a heck of a lot happier if they found joy in life's little things. Look for the simple joys in life and you might find that the evening news won't make you as upset, and you won't be irritated as much by your pet peeves, such as when a student in your class is texting away right in front of you (btw students: tell ur friends ttyl cuz that really makes your profs :-(, lol.)
Like Jimmy, I think we should take a shot. We should try, even just a little, to look beyond the obvious and focus on the good details in life.
Too often, we'll watch the game, look at the score, but won't notice that kid standing stiff under the basket. We won't celebrate his hoop because it's just two more points in a lopsided game. And inevitably, we'll miss that magical moment.
Paul Singley is an adjunct professor of communications at NVCC. He is also a full-time journalist for the Waterbury Republican-American newspaper. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.