On Leaving Your Feet

Palmam qui meruit ferat
“Let he who merited the palm bear it.”

Next to the local gymnasium, there is a billboard featuring an impeccably toned torso with the caption, “There are some things Santa can’t give you.” (I’d like you to think that I was the featured model, but even if you believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy, that might be a bridge too far!)

The advertisement underlines a basic premise: cause and effect, the implicit equal sign of life. If you want to get in top physical condition, you have to work at it. Good intentions just aren’t enough.

A few years ago, I coached a UCC basketball team, and we were chock full of talented players: we could dribble, pass, shoot, and run with the best of them. The one thing that we couldn’t do, though, (and I confess I couldn’t figure out how to coach this) was dive for loose balls. We played hard, but we just weren’t inclined to “bite the wood.”

The problem with a loose ball is that you can’t send your best buddy, your nanny, or even Uncle Charlie in to get it for you. You have to leave your feet. You have to do it instinctively. And you have to do it yourself.

What prompts a sane person to dive on an unforgiving slab of hardwood in order to grab a leather ball? It has to take more than just desire, because a lot of folks would like to have the ball. No, what makes someone leave his feet is the combination of passion and will.

Thirty years ago, my wife and I attended a Pre-Cana retreat, and the only thing I can remember from the experience was this piece of advice: “Marriage is a decision of the mind, and a commitment of the will.” (An aside: There have been plenty of times when my wife has given me a look that suggests, “This is definitely a ‘commitment of the will’ kind of day for me.” And all I can say is that I’m glad she attended that retreat!)

UCC’s motto, “Let he who merited the palm bear it” underlines the importance of the power of will, and it emphasizes the necessity of digging deep within yourself to do the task at hand, regardless of the odds or risk – to follow Nike’s advice and “Just Do It!”

No, life isn’t always fair. Effort doesn’t come with a 100 per cent money back guarantee. Sometimes you’ll work hard and not attain a desired result. In general, though, effort extended through a distance is the best way to merit the palm, and it’s the only way to grab a loose ball.


6 thoughts on “On Leaving Your Feet

  1. I knew there might come a day when I would differ with you about something.
    Today is the day.
    Though I liked most of your comments, the ending left me a bit cold.
    I have trouble with the “just do it.”
    Prudence–counting the cost, considering the consequences–is a cardinal virtue and one overlooked in our culture. One of the new mantras here this year is: “Jump Right in!”
    No, I want to cry out every time it is said. No. do NOT jump right in.
    Weight the consequences. As Jesus said: Before you build, consider the cost.
    Again, in speaking of the “will,” we ought to consider how we should act before we do anything.

    I would not advise you to leave your feet for that basketball. It would NOT be prudent.

  2. When I was dating My wife 30+ years ago and we played her
    parents in mixed doubles on the grass courts at Cricket
    club, I dove for a shot at the net. Her dad, incredibly intimidating, said “We don’t do that here.” “Oh shut up!” said Her mom, the first of a thousand times I’ve heard her say that.

    My future in-laws clobbered us that day. Sometimes, diving just shows desperation.

  3. Thanks, Jim. This echoes a point I have been making recently based on recently reading Outliers. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell offers his observations and explanations for various success stories. What struck me the most was the fact that in addition to people having various opportunities in life (historical time, socio-cultural context, place, ethnicity, birth month/year, cultural heritage, etc.) potentially positioning them for success, people are successful because they work hard at it, harder than anyone else. It’s true and not enough people realize this, have never learned it, or forgotten it. I find this to be particularly true in this current context.

    By the way, I knocked my patella out of alignment – not once, but twice, – this past year, diving on a hard wood floor (sans knee pads) to get the volleyball.

  4. Jim-
    Outstanding read… Thank you for your message of commitment and the “loose ball” parallel. At 9 years of age, I learned the loose ball message while at Pocono Mountain basketball camp from West Point head coach, Bob Knight. Later, his Indiana Hoosier basketball teams would always be “committed” to getting loose balls, playing tough “man to man” defense for 40 minutes.

    I learned that loose balls and playing defense would require extra “want to” at all levels. More effort and “want to” would propel me in practice, games, the classroom and later with family, marriage and my business career.

    Best to Mary, the kids and Happy New Year from Kensington, MD.

    Garry, Ellen and the Witts boys

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