I was walking down a beautiful path along the Mediterranean the other day. The sun was shining, the water was an azure blue, and the waves were crashing against the rocks. I walked and walked and walked and many thoughts crowded my mind, the uppermost being, "I wish I had an iPod."
Unlike Gwendolen in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Ernest, who is famous for saying my all-time favorite line, "I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train", my thoughts were not that stimulating. They dwelt on my anxieties and faults and I dreamt of the iPod as a way to block them out. It doesn't have to be music. I'm happy to listen to a Torah class. Anything that means I don't have to listen to myself.
Something is wrong here. Our history is replete with stories of righteous people who spent significant time alone – in reflection and working on their relationship with the Almighty. Many of our great leaders were shepherds, spending long hours alone perfecting their characters and tending their flocks.
What's wrong with me? For one thing, we're out of the habit. We're used to being bombarded with information, news, emails nonstop. We're not accustomed to being alone. We don't know what to do with our time. We think there' something wrong if we're not busy. We don't know how to take advantage of the opportunity. (A camp director recently told me that campers are coming to camp for shorter periods of time since they cannot handle the withdrawal effects of being without their iPhone.)
And perhaps we're afraid of our thoughts. They're not all happiness and light. Or productive and meaningful.
Some of this is training. Because of the constant (over)stimulation, we haven't learned to discipline our minds, to take charge of our thoughts. This is a real loss. Many of you probably remember the ads, "A brain is a terrible thing to waste." Yet, by not training our minds, we waste ours all the time.
We don't exercise any control over what we think or when we think it. And that's a shame. Because we could be elevating ourselves. We could be improving our character. We could be growing and changing. We could be reviewing important concepts (I could be replacing all those television theme songs from my childhood with significant Torah ideas!) I am duly chastened.
I still want an iPod. For those moments when I don't have the energy or will to discipline my mind, at least let me have a crutch. Let me listen to classes and learn as I stroll along.
But let me also have a new goal – not to waste the opportunity of that rare and precious commodity: time alone.
Yes, I was appreciating the beautiful view. And enjoying the gift the Almighty has given us. But I could do better. Luckily the Jewish month of Elul is here, the perfect time to embrace the chance to change.
A Real Sports Hero: Follow up to last week's blog.
“When I am done playing golf, I’d rather be noted for being a good husband and good father than anything else.”
Pursuant to my recent blog about the bizarre and unpleasant stories in our 24/7 news cycle comes a feel-good story out of Oakville, Ontario (don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of Oakville; if I hadn’t grown up in an equally small, similar bedroom community close by I wouldn’t have either!)
Hunter Mahan is the 31 year-old American golfer quoted above. Halfway through the Canadian Open, in the lead, with $1,000,000 in prize money in sight, he got a phone call and abruptly left the tournament. His wife had gone into labor with their first child.
She was three weeks early which is why he thought this particular sports event was even within the realm of possibility. But he didn’t hesitate for an instant. He didn’t debate the merits of being a sports hero, of earning a large sum of money, versus being there to support his wife and watch his child come into the world.
As he explained, “Success comes and goes…Seeing your daughter every day, having a family – that is stuff that makes you happy to your core.”
That shouldn’t be so startling. He shouldn’t be such an anomaly. But, in a world where so-called sports heroes are being arrested for murder, this type of commitment to family stands out. This understanding of what really counts is unusual. This ability to draw a line is rare.
I hope that Mr. Mahan will get his picture on the Wheaties box or on the cover of Sports Illustrated. I hope that he will be a role model to our youth about work-life balance, about appropriate priorities, about being a mensch.
I hope so but I’m skeptical. He didn’t win the money; he’s not flashy and aggressive. He’s not self-promoting and he hasn’t become a household name. But he should.
Unlike the divorced players, the womanizing athletes, the sports figures caught with guns in night clubs or running dog fighting rings, Mr. Mahan is not a front page story. He doesn’t seek or attract attention. There’s no sensationalism.
So he will probably fade from view. Which is a real shame. But Hunter Mahan is an authentic sports hero.