When I write a recap of my weekly kickball games (yes, I play on a kickball team named Ballsagna, and I write a next day summary of the highs and lows to keep my teammates engaged, and also to bathe in the niche-level attention of an email chain), I occasionally complain about things that seem like they don’t matter. The umpire’s assumedly bad diet, an opponent’s inappropriate choice of kickball footwear (Timberlands? Really?), or anything else that feels like a cheap laugh. I often feel bad about writing it the moment I take my fingers off the keys, but I rarely, if ever, revise it. Instead, I’ll try to make fun of myself at the sign-off, a kind of wink to my 14 readers that they shouldn’t take me too seriously (it’s probably only 12 readers. I’m pretty sure that my most business-minded teammates don’t have the patience/irresponsibility/selflessness to read an egotistically long email about kickball). My sign off for this past week?
One day closer to my death,
Dustin “The Optimist” Riedesel
I try to be an optimist. Honest. I think that a positive mental orientation has a lot of merit (even more than being a realist, which is impossible, but that’s a rant for another day). But when my favorite organization on the planet—the Kansas Men’s Basketball Team—over-achieved by losing in the national championship game against Kentucky, I was probably even more upset than when last year’s dominant Kansas team underachieved by losing in the Elite Eight to VCU. Had you told me at the beginning of this season that we’d compete in the title game, I’d have been happy in spite of the outcome, but this team’s success altered my hopes, and those hopes were not met. It felt like failure, the most devastating label I know.
Did the Kansas Jayhawks fail? And more importantly, are the Kansas Jayhawks failures? For the first time in my life, I’m aware that I have no idea what failure is. Not because I don’t fail, but because I simply never gave it a thought. Is it failure when you don’t achieve a goal, or is it failure to simply not achieve what is good? Maybe it’s both, and I’m ashamed to think that’s the case, because I’d say that most of my life has been spent not achieving goals or good. But as it seems works out where human nature is concerned, the darker interpretation is usually most true. In fact, I’m inclined to believe that humans live with failure as our default setting, only interrupted by brief realizations of goals or benevolent acts. The achievement of goals just don’t last. It’s unfortunate that the human condition requires us to constantly realign our desires for bigger and better, so that the very moment after we’ve achieved what we wanted, we slip right back into “I don’t have what I want” mode, but that’s just how it is. I know my Kentucky friends are already talking about the ninth title right now. Sure as gravity keeps us from flying, nothing is more fleeting than contentment.
I had an old basketball coach that told me and my elementary-age teammates that the game could teach us about life if we’d let it. I’ve been trying to let it teach me for nearly 20 years, and it’s easy to think that the lessons are about work ethic, we before me, or one game at a time. Those are good lessons, but if there’s a lesson to rule all lessons, it’s understanding that while you can’t be perfect, you can try like hell. It’s why I believe that “Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.” is the truest thing ever said about the soul of competition.
So the inaccurate definition of failure that that I’m settling on–the one with the most truthful essence for me–is that failure is the end of hope. Mostly because you can’t have officially failed when there is a chance of success. But when that final buzzer sounded, the Kansas Jayhawks did indeed fail. The hope they had for their team’s success was over. But the players themselves, they still have hope in the men they can be and lives they can live. They’re not failures. To a man, they’re winners. And with that, I think I’ve typed myself into a place where I can cope again.
Hoping for next season,
Dustin “The Optimist” Riedesel