Since I grew up taller than average, adults often asked if I played basketball. My parents weren’t athletic, so younger than high school, I got little experience practicing.
When my mom lived on Rockland Street, an economically depressed block where we were a small minority as one of I think three white families out of about a hundred households, it was Philadelphia in the 70s. Dr. J was huge, so basketball was too. The bigger kids put up a milk crate and plywood hoop on a telephone pole at the bottom of the block and played a lot of street ball. The other moms told my mom to keep me away from the dangerous bottom of the block.
But not playing there wasn’t shameful. I was too young to play then. The shameful experience came in high school. In gym, a bunch of us were playing. I hadn’t learned any skills, but whatever, was playing anyway. I stood at the top of the key. A guy on my team drove to the basket from my left. He jumped as if to take a shot, now between me and the basket. As the defenders covered him, he did what he probably intended to from the start. He passed the ball to me.
I was standing there watching him and didn’t know to expect a pass. The ball hit me in the face and knocked my glasses off. I don’t remember what happened next, besides me having to pick my glasses up. I know I felt shame for years, to now, really. I think I only played basketball a couple times again. When invited, that moment would come to mind and I would find reasons not to play. That’s a shame because I could have learned from that mistake, not given up because of it.
I’ve since learned from elsewhere in life to respond to failure like that with learning how to improve. I wish I had learned to handle adversity and recognize nobody is perfect so not to feel shame then. I think I only started learning such things in college or graduate school.
Why share this moment? I’m not sure. Something about not mentioning it keeps the feeling, the shame, inside and I don’t get over it or learn from it. Sharing it exposes the shame, but allows me to grow from it. Now I wish I’d shared it earlier, like decades ago.
I wish I’d had someone earlier to say something like, “it hurts, but if you get back on the horse after it bucks you, you learn.” Maybe I did but don’t remember or it happened in other areas. Anyway, I can’t change the past. But I can learn from it.
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