Untethered Dog

You Never Know Where He Will Go

Don’t Look Back

Dave Brooks, brother of the late 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey coach, Herb Brooks, while being interviewed by KFAN’s Dan Barreiro this week, shared a story about the miracle moment I had not heard before. Famously, after beating the Soviets, the coach had immediately left the ice. As his players began to celebrate in commemorative print fashion, the camera panned to the bench where the view was of Brooks’s backside. The coach was elbowing his way through a crowd of people slapping his back, shielded by security, up the tunnel and quickly out of view.

Dave, himself a former Olympic hockey player who had been watching the game in the stands, had a credential to go down to the secure area where his brother the coach, escaped. Dave jubilantly approached Herb to offer his attaboys and congratulations in a moment for which there were no adequate words.

In response, Herb said only: “It’s not over yet.”

The man who had just orchestrated the greatest upset, arguably, in the history of modern team sports had already moved on to the next game.

It is hard to fathom that level of focus.

One could make a comment about that. One could try to psychoanalyze. One could say such focus is to the point of being unhealthy. Certainly, it is not in line with the view so often espoused, circa 2020, in which the ultimate goal in life is not a gold medal but rather the ever-important and amorphous concept of “balance.” After all, who wants to devote one’s life to attain a goal — and Herb Brooks had been chasing his goal since the moment he had been the last player cut from the 1960 Olympic team, so 20 years, nearly half of his 42-year life to that point — if you cannot pause for even a moment so as to enjoy an achievement of that order?

To ask the question is to suggest a guy like Brooks could have answered it in more than one way. That is who he was.

Seems, too, you would have to accept that had he not been so otherworldly focused the result you might think he should have celebrated almost certainly would not have come about.

Besides, his team did have a game to play less than 48 hours later. Had they lost that final game, against Finland, they might not even have earned a medal, much less a gold, and few would remember, and none would celebrate forty years after the fact, the win that had just occurred.

Herb Brooks had achieved something the rest of the world had an opinion about. But he had not achieved his goal — the gold — yet.

I don’t wish to do anything with this anecdote, save for this: affirm that the extreme shows us the rule. Even for those of us who don’t wish to, or do not have, a singular goal of the sort than could result in someone putting a medal around our necks, clarity of purpose serves. There is a whole lot of noise in this world intended to capture our time and attention — every minute of every day we must choose how to respond to other people’s wishes for how we shall spend our lives. You can cut through so much this if you know simply what to focus on. That could be raising a child or or making music or being a fantastic sandwich-maker — certainly, one’s purpose doesn’t have to be of the sort of endeavor that is broadcast on television. And while the pursuit of rare excellence can be more than one thing, I suppose, we know it can’t be an endless number of things. The number is small. We might tacitly think we have time for a long list but we do not. We only have so much time on this planet. Whether we know it or not, we choose how we spend that time every minute of every day.

So we might as well focus on something that so great that there are not adequate words to describe what it means to achieve it.

Great Moments are Born from Great Opportunity

I rewatched Miracle last night. What I appreciate about that movie is not the games — we have live footage of those and you can’t mimic the intensity, and especially not the joy — but rather the moments, which are no doubt composites, that took place behind-the-scenes and before, frankly, there were scenes, as in the the words and events in which the assembled group of guys becomes, in the best sense of the word, a team.

In one, there is an artful weaving of the team’s Christmas party backyard football game with President Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech, delivered not-quite six months before (July 15, 1979). I was struck by certain lines from the the speech I had not recalled. The warning President Carter delivered then was nominally about the energy crisis and an economic recession. He also spoke about human failure and what it takes to overcome that failure. He talked about challenge. He spoke in adult terms. He talked about shared responsibility. He did not pretend to have all the answers.

His words were, of course, prescient for the jolt the miracle makers were to give the country two months hence — and seem also to be salient for our times, these forty years later.

Here’s a slice:

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July.

It is the idea which founded our nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else — public institutions and private enterprise, our own families, and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations. We’ve always believed in something called progress. We’ve always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own.

Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. As a people we know our past and we are proud of it. Our progress has been part of the living history of America, even the world. We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom, and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past.

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.

As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.

These changes did not happen overnight. They’ve come upon us gradually over the last generation, years that were filled with shocks and tragedy.

We were sure that ours was a nation of the ballot, not the bullet, until the murders of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. We were taught that our armies were always invincible and our causes were always just, only to suffer the agony of Vietnam. We respected the presidency as a place of honor until the shock of Watergate.

We remember when the phrase “sound as a dollar” was an expression of absolute dependability, until ten years of inflation began to shrink our dollar and our savings. We believed that our nation’s resources were limitless until 1973, when we had to face a growing dependence on foreign oil.

These wounds are still very deep. They have never been healed.

Looking for a way out of this crisis, our people have turned to the Federal government and found it isolated from the mainstream of our nation’s life. Washington, D.C., has become an island. The gap between our citizens and our government has never been so wide. The people are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual.

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

Often you see paralysis and stagnation and drift. You don’t like it, and neither do I. What can we do?

First of all, we must face the truth, and then we can change our course. We simply must have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this nation. Restoring that faith and that confidence to America is now the most important task we face. It is a true challenge of this generation of Americans.

One of the visitors to Camp David last week put it this way: “We’ve got to stop crying and start sweating, stop talking and start walking, stop cursing and start praying. The strength we need will not come from the White House, but from every house in America.”

Russian Connection

It wasn’t just a hockey game. It was Us versus Them.

It was our way versus theirs.

Capitalism versus Communism.

America versus Russia.

We were all Americans then.

After our boys beat their men, our students beat their professionals, Americans who didn’t know the difference between icing a puck and icing a cake sang the national anthem spontaneously in public.

After the 1980 Olympic hockey team beat the Russians and then two days later won the the gold medal, the players were feted by the president of the United States.

USA! USA! USA!

Now? The juxtaposition is impossible to ignore.

Russia is again our enemy.

Russia attacked us in our presidential election of 2016.

Russia is attacking us during our presidential election of 2020.

These are widely accepted facts.

Also known: The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has murdered his political opponents, imprisoned dissenters of his policies, and forcefully invaded sovereign nations (among other crimes against humanity).

The current American president has on many occasions praised the current Russian president.

Our president has said he believes the side of the Russian president over our own intelligence agencies.

Our president has not once condemned Russian attacks on our democracy. Our president has openly asked for Russia to interfere in our elections.

In response to these statements and to these acts, our president retains almost universal support from his political party. The Congressional leader of that party has continually blocked legislation intended to counteract Russian cyberattacks on our elections.

However did we allow this state of affairs to be?

USA. USA. USA.

If you listen close, you can still hear the echo. But it’s fainter than it used to be. More than just the forty years seem to have past.

The Miracle

Forty years later, the moment still gives you chills.

You have been bottled up this week — literally (tension in your back and shoulder) and figuratively (lack of writing, irritability) — and you have for some weeks now felt pervasive despair over the state of our country. We are at that point in winter, even a winter as mild as the one we’ve had, when the body needs unfolding. Malaise. That is the word that corks to mind.

But you can, as you have done in anticipation of today, forty years today, pull up the video. You can watch Eruzione find the puck on his stick in the high slot, watch the captain, our captain, flick his wrist, you can watch him bury that thing, can watch him tippy-toe dance along the boards, absorbed into the arms of his brothers, and still you cry.

The exuberance with they celebrated — the whole team — our team — came onto the ice — the love — the love — the moment — what they were doing — what they were about to do — the moment is a touchstone: you can always go back. To childhood. To hope. To goodness. To the belief that hard work works. You can believe again that, no matter the long odds, good will triumph in the end.

No matter how constricted you feel, no matter how dispirited you become, you can always go back to that moment and release it all.

If only for a moment, you can.

Choosing Meaning

As the world marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in January, I was, as it happens, reading Man’s Search for Meaning. In Part II of his classic, world-over bestseller Viktor Frankl tells the story of a man, a doctor, he counseled who felt deep despair following the death of his wife. The man and his wife had been married for decades; two years after her death the man was still lost in his grief. Frankl asked the man a seemingly simple question: how would his wife be doing if she had instead outlived him? The man thought about it and said his wife would now be suffering severely. Frankl had pointed out that the man was, in essence, suffering in his wife’s place — he was shouldering the burden, sparing her.

We search for answers and we expect those answers will be profound, magical, momentous. So often even a slight change in how we choose to think about something alters everything. The man walked away from his session with Frankl with a means to cope: he still no doubt felt profound grief but his suffering now had meaning.

Frankl makes clear that one does not have to suffer to find meaning. And, of course, thankfully, this is true. Yet when faced with unavoidable suffering — the man’s wife was not coming back to him, not in this physical world — we do have the capacity to try to make meaning from even unenviable circumstances. As Friedrich Nietzsche said in his oft-repeated line (and as Frankl quotes him thusly), “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

That Frankl somehow found meaning himself while enduring life in Auschwitz and other concentration camps does not mean that this is necessarily an easy task for those of us who will never know such conditions. It’s not useful to say that because Frankl could find meaning then we automatically should be able to now. Suffering distorts our view. Let’s be gentle.

But may we also be aware enough to seek the most constructive answers we can when life forces us to ask, “why me?”

Despair

It’s not the verdict that scares. It’s the deliberation to reach that verdict. The president was not just let off the hook; his behavior has been endorsed.

This changes everything.

We have failed before, we failed this time, we’ll fail again. The beauty of the system: we have always had correctives. We have always had the courts and, failing that, elections. We can’t count on those anymore.

The “world’s greatest deliberative body” said today it doesn’t need to hear the actual case in which the president shook down a foreign leader at war with an adversary, causing deaths and putting our national security at risk, in order to launch an investigation into a political rival so as to cheat in an election, because the actual case has been proved and, well, we’re fine with that.

The president got caught trying to cheat in the election and not only will he be allowed to still stand in that election he can keep cheating if he thinks that would be, in the words, of one of his lawyers, in the public interest. There really are no words.

Just don’t let anyone tell you this is politics as usual — that old bromide about two sides that can’t get along. That’s bullshit. Worse, it’s lazy. This is different. This changes the game. It changes the game forever.

One Thing

One good meal. One solid workout. One night of sound sleep. The body is so smart, so responsive to the program we set for it. Take one step in the direction of health and the body becomes primed for the next one. And the next one. And the one after that. Willpower gets you the first step or three. From there it’s a matter of listening to the body. You eat some cauliflower, the body gets happy. You move your body vigorously (but not abusively), your body will let you know it is pleased. You turn off the phone (and all the other screens) and get to bed on time (and, hey, maybe a few ticks early), the body will make you feel like you woke up for the first time — you think clearly, manage stress as it comes, and look for positive connections all around. Just takes one. That’s it. One. You start by starting.

In Praise of Lethargy

This week has included a whole lotta blah. Tired. Slow. Not much mojo. Very little giddy-up and go.

This is not my preferred status, of course. One wishes one were running on all cylinders. But in lethargy lies a gift. Lethargy forces you to …

… slow down. You can’t go past your personal speed limit. I mean, you’re already pulled over!

… rest. You are on the couch, to begin with. Might as well get a nap in.

… eat less. Because the fridge is way. Over. There.

… ask why. Because you don’t want to be tired, you evaluate how well you have been doing with the holy trinity all things healthy — diet, exercise, and sleep. You adjust accordingly.

… let go. The notion that you can do just about anything — always an illusion anyway — falls completely away.

… prioritize. Lethargy has a way of forcing you to focus. You prioritize your time and energy more when you have have less of both. You focus on the things that matter the most.

Simple Fairness

If you try to cheat the casino do you still get the pot?

If you try to cheat on a test at school do you still get an “A”?

If you try to cheat on your taxes do you still get the same refund?

If you try to cheat in an American election, it seems to me, you should not be allowed to stand in that same election.

Binge Watch This Now

The president of the United States was impeached. He currently stands trial to determine if he will be convicted and removed from office. The accusations against the president are more serious than any brought against a sitting president in the history of our republic (Richard Nixon not excepted). As a country, we are at a bottleneck: we are deciding whether our Constitution still matters, whether we will continue to have a separation of powers between the three equal branches of government (versus a system in which the executive branch will have greater authority over the other two), and whether our president is accountable for his actions. Things will not be the same again — regardless of the outcome. It seems to me that anyone who cares about our country, anyone who cares about the laws that govern it, cannot not follow this trial in some form or fashion. We do not have the luxury to sit this one out. I personally did not have time to watch house manager Adam Schiff deliver the trial’s opening argument on Wednesday — but I watched it anyway. I watched it from start to finish. In this moment like no other, Schiff stood up for America. You do not have to share his views but you do have to respect his aims. Factually, his case has not been refuted, even by the president’s attorneys. This is about what those facts mean — right now and from this point forward. Forceful yet steady in his mien, speaking like the teacher you wish you had, not preaching yet with a point of view backed up by show-your-hand facts, admitting where his argument could be strengthened by additional knowledge not currently accessible to him, Schiff’s presentation was comprehensive, salient, reverential, critically important, and nothing short of inspiring. Please watch it as soon as you can. Thank you.