My friend Robert was one of the biggest Spurs fans and one of the best jump shooters I knew in college. So when a Spurs employee approached our group at a game one evening and invited one of us to participate in one of the timeout competitions, we all turned to him. If it was a shooting competition, Big Shot Rob was our best shot.
We were sitting in the nosebleeds, and when the time came, we could hardly tell which one was him. Then they announced his name and that he would shoot a three-pointer for a chance at $9,000. We were ecstatic.
Robert stepped up and released the ball. It went straight over the backboard and into the crowd. The whole crowd laughed. We did too. We’d never seen anyone miss a shot so badly, let alone Robert.
Before Robert came back to his seat, we made an agreement. We wouldn’t even mention the shot, and if he brought it up, we’d pretend like it was a lot closer than it was. We didn’t want him to feel embarrassed. I prepared for the worst, too. As a Spurs diehard, I had dreamed of this moment thousands of times. In front of 30,000 people. On the sacred court. With the whole team watching.
If I was Robert, I’d be mortified. I probably would have gone straight home.
Imagine my surprise when Robert walked up to us, grinning from ear to ear. “That was amazing,” he said. “I can’t believe I got to do that. Thanks, guys, for hooking me up.”
We all slapped his hand, one by one, and when he wasn’t looking, we looked at one another with confusion and relief. Thank God he didn’t need consoling, but how could he be so happy about what happened?
What we saw as a negative moment for him, he experienced as positive.
Robert was comfortable enough with it, and that made us comfortable, too. Maybe a little too comfortable, because soon, we’d tease him about it daily. During pickup games, any time he prepared to shoot the ball, a chorus of us would announce, “For 9,000 dollars…!”
It was hilarious to us then. In retrospect, it’s still hilarious.
A few years later, assuming any residual wound had healed, I finally built up enough courage to ask him. What made it possible for you to be so happy in this moment where your dream fell flat in front of the whole world?
Robert responded casually with a tinge of surprise in his voice. “I never thought about it that way. I would have loved to make the shot, and I would have loved the money. But more than that, I loved the opportunity that I had. Out of thousands of people, I got to go on the court like I’ve always wanted. I just feel so lucky.”
Now I was a bit taken aback. I hadn’t thought about it that way. I was so focused on what he could have had, that I missed out on what he did have. That slight difference in perspective changed how we interpreted that moment. What I saw as agonizing, he experienced as incredible.
We all have moments like these, sharp reminders that how we view our lives can shape how we experience them.
This past week, ten days after the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria, rescue workers found a survivor, 33-year-old Mustafa Avci, still stuck in the rubble. In a video that captured the remarkable moment of his uncovering, we see Mustafa laying on the ground, on speaker phone with a friend, who is overjoyed to learn that Mustafa is still alive.
First, Mustafa asks about his family hopefully. “Did everyone escape okay? Let me hear their voices for a moment.”
The friend replies through sobs: “I am driving. I am coming to you, Brother.”
Mustafa says over and over. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
Then, before the video shuts off, we see Mustafa kiss the hand of his rescuer and thank him. “May God be happy with you a thousand times.”
I’ve watched this video dozens of times, and I’ve played it in my mind hundreds of times more. How is it that in the hardest moment of his life – where the chances of his own survival are fractional and the world is literally crumbling all around him – this man is still able to feel gratitude and hope?
These two stories are different in magnitude; one is about missing a basketball shot, while the other is about surviving death against all odds. What binds them together is how Robert and Mustafa saw these challenges. In both cases, these men were able to see these difficulties with clear eyes, not just through the lens of what could be different and what they are left wanting, but with gratitude for what is and for what they have.
This is not to deny our pain or ignore what makes life hard. Robert still wished he made that shot. I’m sure Mustafa wished that earthquake never happened. Having those feelings is natural and human. I wish for different things daily, from the mundane and superficial—Can’t my beard wait until I’m 50 to turn gray?—to the significant and urgent—Why did my cousin get diagnosed with breast cancer?
The past few weeks have been some of the more challenging weeks of my life, and as I’ve muddled through them, I’ve found solace in these perspectives. They’re powerful reminders for how we can deal with the hardships of our lives while also seeing the hope within it. It begins with a simple step. Gratitude for what is and for what we have.
Thank you for this. 🙏 as I have embarked on my spiritual journey I honour what I learn daily. The understanding of the purpose of life has been beautiful. Having lost our dad on New Years Eve this year and our sister almost 15 years ago, I cannot thank sources like your book, Nanak Naam and others for helping me to get out of the negative ways of thinking. 🙏
There is a lot to learn through your experiences.