Sunday, November 13, 2005

Hilton Head... A Lesson... But No Golf.

As the title suggests, I traveled to Hilton Head this week, was not able to so much as touch a club, but absorbed a profound golf lesson anyway.

Actually, I received the lesson twice, and it seems to me that is often the way it goes. Once the Universe decides that a lesson is needed, It doesn’t trust me enough to send it a single time, or in a single form.

The first version came as an essay written by Roland Merullo. (I’m reading two of his books now — a golf novel and a collection of essays — that I’ll review in future postings.) The subject of this particular piece was anger on the course and how it inhibits our ability to play to our potential and, worse, contaminates the potential beauty of the experience.

We’ve all known angry golfers and have probably been one, on occasion, ourselves. I’m not the loud and visible variety; I’ve never thrown a club (very far) and my oaths are silent or muttered to myself. But I’ve seen some beauties. I once watched a person run pell-mell from a green more than 100 yards down a hill to throw his errant putter into a creek. And I’ve had to climb a barbed wire fence to search a cornfield for a partner’s driver.

The silent type of anger is more subtle but just as damaging. For me, it has been like a dark blanket that descends over everything and, with it, good golf becomes impossible. I’m forced to go on auto-pilot, grinding out one glancing blow after another with no hope of recovery, until I can finally drag myself off the 18th green. I’ve worked at it, and I’m better now, but I still can fall into ‘funks’ that are difficult to escape.

In his essay, Merullo makes a telling point: “Anger resides in the gap between the way the world is and the way we think it should be.” True enough, and a perfect summary of what happens to us on the course. We think we’re better than we’re showing and that we don’t deserve what is happening to us. Or, perhaps, we know we’re unworthy and are afraid that we’ve now disclosed to our partners the gap between what we really are and what we’ve just been pretending to be. Either way, Merullo’s anger model is a thought worth remembering when the darkness descends on us.

But, the essay was not enough for the Universe. I received a living example this past Friday at Hilton Head.

In an earlier posting (“What’s Important?” October 25th) I wrote about a high school classmate who, just after our class reunion in September, discovered she had galloping and untreatable cancer. From that discover she had about four weeks until she died on November 1st. And so, instead of the golf visit we had talked about, I traveled to Hilton Head this week to attend Sally’s memorial service and to give what support I could to her husband (and my classmate also), Chuck.

I wish I could convey the grace with which they have both moved through this: Sally in the way she accepted her fate and Chuck in his concern for the rest of us. What I experienced this past Friday — a standing-room-only service held in a circular meeting-house with a 360-degree view of the marshland and water-ways — while certainly sad, was also strangely joyful: a celebration of a life well lived and a reaffirmation of a bond that is not broken because someone’s physical body has ceased to function.

Chuck and Sally didn’t spend any time wallowing in their gaps. Certainly they didn’t choose this fate but they never wavered in their acceptance. If they can do that so fluidly, surely I can accommodate, now and then, an ugly double or triple-bogey? Or two? Or three? Or…?

Good night, Sal.

(Also new today: This week's fortune cookie!)

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