Hey, Everyone, Get Out Your Tape Measure

Photo Credit:Brett Jordan/Unsplash

Perhaps you once saw the 1986 movie Hoosiers or recently re-watched it, going through all your old sports DVDs since there are no games of any kind to watch right now. It is based on the true story of how the basketball team from a very small high school (enrollment 161) won the 1954 Indiana state championship, improbably beating the team from a much larger city. The single-class system meant all schools competed together with no allowance made for size.

There’s a classic scene in which the players all walk into the huge stadium in Indianapolis for the tournament and they’re like deer in the headlights, looking around unable to take in the immensity of the building, which dwarfs any one in which they’ve ever played. The coach, played by Gene Hackman, can see it in their eyes and he takes out a measuring tape. They check the distance from under the backboard to the foul line. It’s fifteen feet. One boy sits on another’s shoulders and they do the same with the height of the rim. Ten feet. The coach says “I think you’ll find this is the exact same measurements as our gym in Hickory.”

That scene came to mind at work the other day unbidden, like a trout rising to a fly when I didn’t even know I was fishing. I felt like those high school basketball players looked. I also saw it on the faces of customers in the grocery store where I work. “What have we gotten ourselves into, here? It’s way bigger than we are.”

Right now all team members are getting temps taken daily before work and we’re all wearing masks and gloves. For any one working on the checkout registers, there’s now a three foot wide piece of plexiglass between them and customers. It’s like being a bank teller or working in a subway token kiosk. Not something we’re used to.

The combination of people wearing masks coupled with my hearing aids isn’t normal, either. On my best days, hearing can be an adventure. Add a mask, which both muffles words and hides lips, and I’m doing the “Six Foot Shuffle,” moving back, leaning in, hand to my ear indicating “Try again, didn’t quite catch that.” But the scene in Hoosiers came to mind and I thought “Just do what you always do, most of this hasn’t changed.” It was grounding somehow, calming.

There is normal out there, a lot of normal in fact, maybe mostly normal, when you really look at it. I had a professor of Old Testament Hebrew, in my theological seminary days, who would say, after introducing some new point of grammar, “There’s nothing new here.” Don’t panic, was his message, it’s just one new little twist. Most of this you’ve seen before.

It’s almost 6 AM now with the daylight rising in the east behind me and nothing can stop this well oiled turn toward a new day, not even this little pathogen hitchhiking all over the world. It can’t level mountains or rope the clouds or quiet the sea’s foment or cause an earthquake or steal my car or kidnap my grandchildren in Stockholm or blot out the sun or make it rain or turn off the birdsong.

There’s plenty of normal. As Natalie Goldberg put it so well, “We should notice that we are already supported at every moment. There is the earth below our feet and there is the air, filling our lungs and emptying them. We should begin from this when we need support.”

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