Monday, March 24, 2014

The Men That Don't Fit In

If they just went straight they might go far
They are strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.

- "The Men Who Don't Fit In" by Robert Service 

After the Seattle Seahawks routed the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, Pete Carroll was asked about his expectations for the next season. With the celebration still swirling around him, he gave an answer that was dissected across sports radio the next day, mostly in not-so-favorable terms, 
“The first meeting that we’ll have will be tomorrow. That starts tomorrow. Our guys would be surprised if we didn’t. We really have an eye on what’s coming, and that we don’t dwell on what just happened. We’ll take this in stride, and we’ll have a big celebration on Wednesday in town and enjoy the heck out of it. Everybody will enjoy the heck out of it. We won’t miss the fun part of it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t set our sights on how this is going to go...We’ll be battling and competing...We’ll get going (with the) next challenge."
The critics were outraged. Coach Carroll was taking the Super Bowl in stride? What "next challenge" is there? The crowing achievement of his career...and he's going back to work tomorrow!?

The truth is, nobody prepares you for the after. For so long, high performance individuals and teams focus on a singular goal: perfection in their craft. You try so hard to accomplish it and once you have it, it feels like you have nothing. There's a phantom itch left by the late night meetings, practice sessions, dress rehearsals, and camaraderie built up over weeks, months, or even years of preparation. The next morning you wake up with the Lombardi Trophy and the realization the thing you really craved was the feeling of "family" you had grown to know and love, and in the coming days that would be spread across a city or even across the country, never to have that moment again.

It's a stark realization I'm coming to grips with after three wonderful productions of "Fiddler On The Roof." A Super Bowl victory it is not, but the time I spent in rehearsal and waiting backstage for the roar of the audience is just as memorable to me. I forged relationships, had lots of fun, and saw the best actors and actresses our church and city had to offer turn in as dominant a performance as the Legion of Boom. And today, the day after, I woke up with that familiar feeling rising up inside of me. I gravitated to that interview by Coach Carroll as a sign of what to do next. His guiding principle of "Always Compete" has served me well and it was a joy to watch something you've applied in your life succeed on such a big stage like the Super Bowl. As I read the interview again, I smiled and it clicked.

As kids, we always look for the next thing to climb. Whatever is bigger or higher or stronger, we resolve out of will, pride, or pure childish naivete to conquer. The fascination with climbing has taken us to the moon and back as humans; and it should have dawned on me earlier: it's about the climb. The goal is a waypoint, the relationships and rehearsals an anchor. What Fiddler has prepared me to do is launch myself into the next challenge and even further out of my comfort zone, knowing I have the love and support of a congregation behind me, confidence in myself inside of me, and a Life WithOut Limits in front of me. The memories I made will be just that, but everything else should not be discarded. They are the tools I'll have to use to get back to that feeling, this time with another team. The Seahawks will return next year and many things will be different. But at the heart of the team concept set forth by Coach Carroll will be the same goal: perfection at your craft. And just like my beloved cast of Fiddler, the players and coaches will approach their lives knowing what it is like to be at the top, but realizing what's truly important in the journey.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans. When that's where you left your heart. The moonlight on the bayou a creole tune that fills the air. I dream about magnolias in bloom and I'm wishin' I was there." - Louis Armstrong

There hasn't always been a party on Bourbon and I am anathema to the single-mindedness of the rest of the country about New Orleans because of Bourbon, but in a city that celebrates survival in everything we do there has to be a street to do that on. I could do very much without the neon, however. The scenes you see on national TV around this time of year only tell a fraction of our story. New Orleans is the most unique of American cities: a celebration of culture rooted in a three-hundred year old mistake. We survive, we persist, and we party. Yet only the last third of that Trinity survives past state lines. You couldn't make a gumbo with only onions...

I write this at the end of another Mardi Gras season, perhaps pensive as I tend to be going into the Lenten season or just sad that the party's over. For the first time in years, I managed to make it to the French Quarter more than once as friends and family were in town. As we walked across Canal and back into history (architecturally, anyway) I caught myself skimming my hand across three hundred-year old walls as I'm prone to do. Mardi Gras is not the season for a historically-minded thinker as myself to be in the Quarter, I've come to find out. As my hand grazed alongside the walls of Arnaud's, I noticed a very pretty girl hurling chunks of blueberry-colored vomit onto those same walls. In an instant my wanderlust for historicity on Bourbon was replaced with a deep desire for hand soap. Bad call on my part. 

It's true I'm a stalwart for an old line of thinking: a line of thinking that preaches preservation, beignets, and the history behind them. Call me out on it if you want. In a city sculpted so precariously on marsh in between two water bodies, new is not a reminder of pain for many. It's a celebration of promise. For me it's the opposite. Every move off of the high ground is a risk. An adage in New Orleans should be "the further you move away from the cemeteries, the closer you are destined to be in them." Modern engineering has made us confident in our designs and dangerously at odds with Mother Nature yet sometimes she just laughs and floods the city anyway. The blame is placed, the city is rebuilt, and the celebration of new continues. In a city where survival is counterintuitive to the universe, celebration is the only force powerful enough to keep us rooted in tradition. 

I deeply appreciate those who come to New Orleans to celebrate with us. The revival of our city since Katrina has been in major part because of tourism. We love to make you feel at home. Hell, we hope you do make it your home someday. The only thing I hope you seek out when you visit are the first and second parts of my Trinity: survival and persistence. It's true we have problems. New Orleans is sinking, the murder rate is astronomical, and the Saints have to pay Jimmy Graham. When you're here we love to gloss over these things and take you out for po-boys and jazz brunch and walk it off with a lap at Audubon Park. It's the way we have come to extenuate our existence in America's most brilliant mistake. But don't think for a second we don't want to solve these problems that plague us. In these celebrations big and small we find the strength and courage to face whatever is thrown at us. Mardi Gras reinforces the feeling that we are special in this world and from there we resolve to never see the city like the world did in 2005. A Super Bowl championship throws the city into a frenzy and we realize nowhere else has such a special bond to a representation of their city like New Orleans does with their Saints.

As Lent begins, so does the time for America's most Catholic of cities to pause and reflect. For a couple of days the celebration ends and we wait. For someone who believes that new is a reminder of pain when framed in the history of New Orleans, you may think I take these days in stride. But I, like the rest of the city, realize the innate need of promise. After forty-six days a Savior will rise and JazzFest will be right around the corner. The celebration will begin anew, just in time for hurricane season.