Sunday, October 25, 2009

In a Perfect World

I’ve been pushing myself a lot lately and can’t find enough hours in the day to get everything done. This morning I basked in a few rare hours of downtime and watched ice skating on TV. Ladies figure skating has long been my favorite sport, and I can’t help but be amazed at the discipline and talent that goes into each performance. Part of my admiration stems from an inability to even walk on ice. A few years ago my feet swooshed out from under me causing me to fall flat on my back and crack my head on a surface as hard as concrete.

Many years ago I talked Jim into taking me to St. Louis to see Stars on Ice. At the time, Jim was in the early stages and we were hopeful his problems were caused by something treatable like depression or a vitamin deficiency. The trip went smoothly except when Jim drove the wrong way on a one-way street. That could happen to anyone in the confusing downtown area of St. Louis.

We checked into a hotel overlooking the river area and within sight of the Arch. Our room was nice, but the bed had only two pillows, exactly Jim’s requirement. He called the front desk and said, “My wife doesn’t have a pillow.” It was obvious he had claimed both pillows and decided I didn’t have any.

The next year we went to Stars on Ice in Kansas City. As we approached Kemper Arena we were directed into a small parking lot tucked between tall buildings. We couldn’t see the arena because of the buildings crowding all sides of the lot but found it by following the crowd headed to the show.

The very air feels different at a live skating show. On TV it’s easy to be critical when the performance isn’t perfect. At a live performance, the amazing talent of professional skaters shines in a different light. A death spiral seems much scarier in person. The man spins at great speed, swinging his partner around and around, up and down, until you shut your eyes because it looks like he will surely slam her head into the ice. You see the “air” beneath the jumps and wonder how a human can develop such skill. Yes, to be at a live ice skating event, you realize that a great skater may not always skate perfectly.

We were still hyped from the show when we exited the building. We realized we had no idea where our car was parked. Jim had always had a great sense of direction and I depended on him. The January night was frigid and the crowd thinned as everyone hurried to their cars. My stomach hurt when I realized it was going to be up to me to figure out where we were parked.

“We need to go to the other side of the arena,” I told Jim. We walked around Kemper and saw a sidewalk headed toward some buildings. “It has to be down this way, don’t you think?”

“I have no idea,” Jim said. Boy, were we ever in trouble.

“I know it’s this way,” I said with more confidence than I felt. We walked toward the dimly lighted buildings. After a few blocks on the deserted sidewalk we veered down a dark alley. Our car was the only vehicle left in the lot.

It’s been years since I’ve watched a live skating show and found this morning’s televised skating performances disappointing. The skaters fell, popped jumps, or made two-footed landings.

Then, I thought about the pressure on skaters now. Skaters must execute perfect triple or quadruple jumps to be competitive. A champion skater cannot remain in a comfort zone, but must take risks. As a result, skaters make multiple mistakes or miscalculations. When I remember Scott Hamilton executing a perfect back flip, it is unimportant if he fell from time to time or popped a jump.

In a perfect world we wouldn’t falter or fall. But it isn’t a perfect world and we are only human. If we never stretch ourselves, we may not fail, but we won’t know the joy of living our dreams. We can stay in our comfort zone and settle for mediocrity, or take a risk and push ourselves to the limit.
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