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MAN OF THE HOUSE | Being grateful for the opportunity to play the game

A look in the mirror often makes me wonder whose face is there. That guy has mostly gray hair, somewhat weather-worn skin and a white beard. It's a serious face with eyes peering somewhere beyond, appearing to be reflecting on something only mirror man might understand.

"He looks a lot older than me," I think. "Probably 50s, maybe getting close to 60. He's probably seen a lot in his life. I'll bet I could learn a lot from that guy."

Of course, I am that guy.

Life passes quickly, so fast that we frequently fail to pay attention until we barely recognize the person we have become. Once the faces change, has the opportunity to truly savor life passed?

As often happens with me, I turn to sports and athletes for answers. Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Mike Singletary once said: "Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play."

Indeed, many of us get so busy living that we don't take the time to enjoy the blessing of life. We're carefree as kids, move from one test to the next in school, always anxious to move into the adult world. Those who follow a somewhat standard blueprint might get a job, marry, have kids, buy a house, earn a living and squeeze in fun where possible. Such lives — and others following other paths — are wonderful. But life whizzes past so fast we're left to wonder if we truly had success.

What's a success?

The average professional football player spends only 3.3 years in the National Football League. The average basketball player lasts 4.8 seasons in the National Basketball Association. The average baseball player who makes it to the majors has a big-league career of 5.6 years. All those hours and years practicing and playing games in little leagues, high school, college — gone in a blink of an eye.

Those who have longer careers don't always have the most talent. There is one common trait: They figure out how to "slow the game down."

Put another way, such athletes don't allow situations to become overwhelming; they don't let the action whiz past them. Instead, they participate fully.

Consider this circumstance: In a baseball game, a team is trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth inning. There are runners on second and third. A hard-throwing pitcher is on the mound. The batter at the plate hasn't had a hit all game and just swung and missed a 100 miles-an-hour fastball. What might the guy at the plate thinking? Well, even the best hitters in the big leagues fail six or seven times out of 10 they go to bat. It has been a bad day, and another 100-mph fastball won't likely make that any better. The pressure is intense.

Those who become All-Stars don't think about the historical failure rate or even the statistical likelihood of success. They don't dwell on the preceding pitch. Instead, they focus on the moment. They relax. They commit to the next pitch.

They live the experience.

"Stop chasing the game," NBA coach Phil Jackson told the great Michael Jordan early in his career. "Let the game come to you."

Accept the circumstances of your life, the place where God has placed you. Have faith. Commit.

"Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself," Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount. "Sufficient for a day is its own evil."

Whatever the outcome, always take the time to savor, to reflect. Although I'm not always good at it, I try to take time at the end of the day to perform two mental exercises. First, I recall three things for which I'm thankful and recognize those as blessings.

Second, I write down three of my victories from that day, three times I succeeded at something that took some effort, three at-bats on which I got a hit. Some days those victories will feel exhilarating; other days the list might say "got out of bed, took a shower, ate a healthy meal." On those days, I have to accept it and commit to the next day.

And I have to be grateful for the opportunity to play the game.

Eisenbath is a member of St. Cletus Parish in St. Charles. 

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