Saturday, June 6, 2020

Column: What I learned with nothing left to chase

April 21, 2020
Senior forward Kyle Ahrens (left) celebrates retaking the lead with senior guard Cassius Winston (right) during a game against Iowa. The Spartans defeated the Hawkeyes, 78-70, at the Breslin Student Events Center on February 25, 2020.
Senior forward Kyle Ahrens (left) celebrates retaking the lead with senior guard Cassius Winston (right) during a game against Iowa. The Spartans defeated the Hawkeyes, 78-70, at the Breslin Student Events Center on February 25, 2020. —
Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

I have a younger sister named Gabriella. Those who know us both know that we couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.

I didn’t quite get the basis of this assertion until recently, when I helped her with one of many voluntary writing exercises emailed to her by her teacher as a part of her now-remote curriculum.

The prompt asked her to describe the perfect pet and give evidence. Rather than revert to something simply real, she called upon a fictional creature which she dubbed “Glitter.”

Glitter can fly. Glitter has wings and a tail and possesses glow-in-the-dark abilities. Glitter exhibits unconditional obedience and affection.

Being the painfully literal person I am, I, per usual, countered and asked, “Shouldn’t the pet you write about be real?”

She responded, “It could be real.”

I pride myself on having an open mind, but mine pales in comparison to hers. She offsets my analytical nature with one that is, to me, so unfathomably positive and imaginative. Needless to say, I learn a lot from my seven-year-old sister.

Any short-lived optimism is countered by a philosophy I unconsciously adapted from the words of Detroit sports radio host and MSU graduate Mike Valenti: “If it seems too good to be true, it is.” From there I maintained: guard your optimism.

I often don’t let myself imagine the possibilities I deem out of reach simply because I place that constraint on myself. Those who know me well, also know it’s no hyperbole I lived my dream this year, covering and writing about Michigan State men's basketball. 

But before the start of my freshman year in East Lansing, my dad had to all but force me to drop off an application at The State News. “I can’t possibly be qualified to work there, let alone ever earn my dream position,” I thought to myself, despite serving as my high school paper’s editor.

But eventually I received the call. 

And I was ecstatic. 

I worked my way up from rotating between from the foreign lands that are the city and campus desks, eventually settling in as a sports reporter. After a year of rotating between non-revenue sports, I got my shot at the basketball beat this year.

After relishing one of my proudest accomplishments, I quickly discarded my unwieldy optimism for persistent cynicism once more.

It wasn’t good enough I enjoyed courtside press-row seating for most games. I got pushed next to the obnoxious band or up to the concourse for the primetime contests. I felt sorry for myself when I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to cover the tournament like I planned, when I could appreciate my memories covering one of the best players to ever play for Tom Izzo in Cassius Winston.

I guess my point is that it’s very easy to think this way, and I still need constant reminders of some of these things from those close to me. As my dad put it, “every so often you need to smell the coffee.”

It’s easy to get caught in a constant pursuit and neglect to appreciate the opportunities that lay right in front of you. Now, I remember why I dreamed of covering this team for so long — because I think there are many grander lessons to be learned from sports, and especially from the athletes participating. That notion never ceases to amaze within Izzo’s program, as such inspiration was especially prevalent this year.

But in the ESPN 30-for-30 documentary “For Better or For Worse,” it wasn’t Dennis Rodman’s bizarre display of emotion or summary of his frivolous life that struck me. It was the final piece of narration I found most powerful:

“It’s said that the journey should be cherished and the destination ignored.

“But what about the destination?

“When a life has been lived and every door opened, when only the destination remains, what’s left?

“Maybe just a simple question: Whatever was desperately pursued along the way, was it found?”

Upon hearing this question I recalled the last line of a letter I wrote to myself on my high school Kairos retreat, in which I also reference a line from the Kid Cudi song appropriately titled “The Pursuit of Happiness”:

“You are always chasing it. ‘I’ll be fine once I get it.’

“You already have it.”

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