[This post's title was inspired by Susan Jeffers's book: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. I love her title, but I've never read the book.]
I. Out with the Old, In with the New
Good news: At midlife, many of my fears, especially my social fears, have dwindled--or even disappeared altogether.
Bad news: I've got new fears.
Specifically, the fear of physical pain.
I've never been very afraid of being hurt because I so rarely have been.
Basically my plan for living in a body has been:
If it hurts, don't do it.
That pretty much took care of athletics, right there.
And I've been blitheringly lucky enough to have great health, mostly.
But this past year, not only did a 6-hour gallbladder attack leave me wondering how people live with chronic pain without throwing themselves off a cliff,
but I've seen a bunch of people around me go through some serious bodily hurting, with a lot of attendant fear.
It occurs to me that there's going to be more of this before we're outta here,
and that it would behoove me to adopt a new game plan.
II. Game Plan
So, remember I started to watch sports movies after Christmas, looking for wisdom?
(I wrote about it here.)
And quickly discovered why I haven't been watching them all along:
Mostly, they're not about wisdom.
They're about sports.
This past Christmas, I'd asked a coach pal of mine for sports-movie recommendations:
Miracle (2004) is his top favorite.
It's about a coach, played by Ken Russell (right)--whoops, several people pointed out to me that that is, in fact, KURT, not KEN Russell--thanks, keen readers!),
[Look, Margaret: he's in plaid!]--
anyway, a coach who makes his scruffy loser ice-hockey players practice until they vomit so they can beat the Soviets in the 1980 Olympics. Which they do.
That pretty much sums up these sorts of movies.
But there's another kind of sports movie.
The next time I saw my coach friend, he eagerly asked me what sports movies I'd watched.
I told him my favorite so far was Bad News Bears (1975), which isn't even on his list.
[Remember Bad News Bears? Walter Matthau (above, left) plays a drunk has-been who gets roped into coaching a baseball team of loser kids.
In the end, when his team has the chance to win (with the help of crack pitcher Tatum O'Neal), he chooses to let the worst kids play instead, saying,
"Everybody on my team gets a chance to play."]
My coach pal crunched up his face and said, "That's not a sports movie!"
"Sure it is!" I said. "It's about a style of coaching, an approach to playing. It's how I want to be, say, as a movie director."
"Well, if you're that kind of coach," he said, "no one will want to be on your team because you'll lose."
Yes, well, and that's why he lives in a house with five bedrooms,
while I have to put my mattress in the bathtub if I have more than four people over;
but I still don't want to skate till I vomit or make other people, either.
[To be fair, I've gotta say, this guy is a great guy--very generous and in many ways far nicer than me. We just hang out at opposite ends of the competition spectrum.]
III. Movie Moment: "Take the Charge"
I'm not looking at sports movies for tips about How to Win,
but for the psychological underpinnings of things that interest me, including
collaboration, creativity, and courage.
Along those lines, I was at a dinner party last night, and someone said that watching the Olympics made him wonder:
How do athletes deal with fear?
General consensus among the guests was that these superathletes don't feel fear. Which I'd say just goes to show this was not a table of athletes.
I'm sure that except for psychotic people, high-performers feel fear. They feel it, and they do it anyway.
I don't know, but I'd guess that for high-endorphin folks, the fear is probably even part of the rush they get.
Anyway, with my veritable storehouse of Sports Knowledge Gained From Movies,
I added my two-bits:
I told them about the scene in Eddie (1996) where Whoopi Goldberg coaches a Knick's basketball player on how to "take a charge" (also called flopping).
Gee, I haven't written up a Movie Moment in quite a while. This is a great one, here (at 7:50–9:15):
"Whoopi Goldberg Demonstrates How to Take a Charge"
You can watch the whole movie on youTube: Eddie.
RIGHT: Photo of "Charging Foul," by Jed Jacobsohn, from Life magazine*
The dinner guests didn't know what "taking a charge" was anymore than I had,
so here's the deal.
*SKIP THIS IF YOU ALREADY KNOW*
Briefly, it's when player A, on defense, stands in front of player B as B charges up to make a basket.
If player A plants his/her feet, when player B smashes into A, that's a "charging foul" on player B;
so if B made the basket, it doesn't count, and the ball goes to player A's team.
(But if player A's feet move or are too close to the basket, then A gets a "blocking foul.")
Anyway, besides the great action photo here, I also came across an instructional video on "How to Take a Charge" that says good charge-takers have to have 3 things:
1. the ability to watch where the ball is on the court, at all times
2. the ability to watch where their own feet are
--and my favorite:
3. "Courage--because it hurts just as much as it looks like it does."
Courage--that's what Eddie is demonstrating to her basketball players.
So, for me, this all applies to aging and pain and fear.
Unless I'm really, really lucky, I'm gonna hurt sometimes, maybe a lot.
This frightens me, but I think the time is coming to replace "If it hurts, don't do it" with something more like "Take the charge."
Not invite pain on purpose, of course! But learn to tolerate the fear that comes with it.
As Paul Child, Julia's husband, said, there's an art to suffering, which most young people don't know.
And he's right--I haven't learned that art yet.
But I do know it's not about beating the other guy,
it's about staying in the game.
P.S. Oh! As it happened, the host of last night's dinner party had won a pair of tickets to a basketball game next Saturday. He didn't want them, and no one else at the table wanted them either, so I am now the lucky owner of two tickets to see the Minnesota Timberwolves play the Houston Rockets.
(They cost $50 each. Sheesh.)
My friend Maura is going with me and can explain what is happening, though even I can follow a basketball game.
I am so excited!
This means I will attend my very first pro-basketball game the day after my 49th birthday.
* Re "Charging Foul" photo:
NCAA First Round - George Washington v Vanderbilt
SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 15, 2007: Regis Koundjia #23 of the George Washington Colonials is called for a charging foul as he puts up a shot over Shan Foster #32 of the Vanderbilt Commodores during round one of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Arco Arena on March 15, 2007 in Sacramento, California.
In this photo: Regis Koundjia, Shan Foster
Photo: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images