Halftime

I look at my life through the prism of sports, and like many sports I believe that life has two halves. If the average life expectancy is hovering around 70 years old, then at 35, I could consider myself half-way home. As a black man I belong to a demographic that is saddled with the extra burden of having the average life expectancy of only 57, so if I were really keeping it real, I’m already 61.4% of the way home. For the purposes of this blog, however, I’m running with 70 years old for my theoretical finale. Anything less would just be reinforcing negative stereotypes and anything more will be a black man essentially participating in overtime.

Before I can look ahead to overtime though, I have got to concern myself with the game of life at hand. Right about now I reckon its halftime, and I deserve some sort of speech before I go back out there and hand an L to the world. (That “L” is both literal and figurative, if you have been following my life so far.) The only problem with life is that we have to give ourselves our own halftime speeches more often than not, so I’m writing my halftime speech to myself here so that I can always refer to it. Halftime speeches are important in sports and they might also be equally important in the game of life. They can put things into perspective and they also give an opportunity for adjustments that need to be made. I remember the some of the halftime speeches given by Basketball Hall of Fame coach Morgan Wootten, so you’ll have to forgive me if my speech to myself is an amalgamation of sorts.

Without further ado, we’ll get this thing popping in my best Morgan Wootten voice. If you don’t know what the voice of Morgan Wootten sounds like, just picture Andy Griffith without the extreme southern twang. An easygoing voice that never rushed hurriedly and was characterized by plain, slow English is what is playing in my head. Coach Wootten was never the one to get all fire and brimstone excited so whoever you think of can’t be anyone crazy with an over-the-top personality because my speech isn’t tailored for someone like that. I also superimpose the body and face of Ossie Davis over Coach Wootten because I’m black and I feel that I would probably have deeply seated issues if my life coach happened to be some white guy. Kind of like the whole Jesus is black thing, but I’ll get back to you on that.

Scene: Ossie Davis walks in front of a blackboard in an otherwise dark room where I am seated with a towel around my neck, visibly awaiting words of wisdom with sweat dripping off my chiseled, naked body. There is some diagramming and imagery on the blackboard but the life coach is blocking most of it. He is standing there wearing a tweed suit and an out-of-fashion tie. Both seem to belie the heat of the room, as the life coach doesn’t even have so much as a bead of sweat on his brow.

Ossie Davis with voice of Morgan Wootten speaks: Considering the way you’ve played to get to this point, I can’t help but be pleased with where we are at. I’m not saying that we are exactly where we want to be, but we could be doing a whole lot worse. We really started out great. I don’t think that we could have had a better start to this game, and we really seemed to be set up for success. Somewhere towards the end of the first quarter and well into the second I started to wonder about the need for a cushion. The substantial lead that we amassed quickly disappeared when the world seemed to exert the will to be a factor in the game. We didn’t play mistake-free like we’re capable of, and I think that we may have even bought into playing the world’s game instead of our game at times. We’re not a long way from victory –but we still haven’t won, so there are going to have to be some adjustments in the second half of this game.

We started out real selfish in the beginning, but I think that we’ve learned now that in order to win we are going to have to play as a team. The game has always come simple to us, so instead of over thinking this thing, we should get back to the basics. I think that the fundamentals have kept us in this thing so far and we are going to have to continue to do the right things in the right way. So far, it’s like we’ve been playing with one arm tied behind our backs because we haven’t exactly been getting the most out of our efforts. The opportunities have been there but we haven’t been able to capitalize on them with maximum efficiency yet for some reason. Turnovers are what have been ailing us the most and we have got to figure out a better way to take care of our soul. The outcome of this game could come down to time of possession so remember that every single one of them is going to count.

Your parents’ divorce, military school, the loss of your college scholarship, the fireman fiasco, the watch log affair, the World Trade Center disaster, and the great paper chase all come to mind to me as events that happened out of the blue. The fact that you’re still here after the world has come at you with all of that is a testament to your commitment to the fundamentals. I think that you’re finally beginning to see how the world works wonderfully at stalling progress, not unlike a widow’s web, but you never got caught up. The murky times revealed the most about your character. On the bright side, the rebounding out there has been something to marvel at. Don’t lose that intensity, and I have a feeling that you can wear the world down. Stay after those loose balls and don’t be afraid to get after them.

[Cut to me staring directly in the camera straight-faced and still sweating.]

[Cut back to the life coach writing another diagram on the board and spinning around just in time to obscure it, yet again.]

Life Coach resumes: The defense has been pretty good, and I don’t think that we can change much in that department, other than to keep up the good work. The offense has stalled out a bit because it appears that we’re getting distracted by the shiny goals. Let’s not forget what is really important in this game: winning is achieved when you can prioritize in life. We really don’t want to rush things because there is still a lot of time left on the clock. We’ve taken care not to tucker ourselves out and I get the feeling that we’ve actually saved the best for last. I don’t want to ruin that by putting on a press or changing things around too much, but we are going to have to man-up. What I would like to see in the second half of this game is a concerted effort to give our best shot. I spoke about it earlier, but it is worth revisiting that we’ve been doing enough to get by and almost stay even.

This isn’t a knock on your ability; I think that it says something about your decision-making process. You chose to leave New York after your parents got divorced. You chose to attend an HBCU over other Ivy League scholarship offers. You chose to join the Coast Guard. You chose to let the woman that probably loved you the most go because you weren’t able to give her what she deserved in return. Not one of those was an easy choice and I suppose that is why we’re in the position that we’re in today. You don’t seem to have too much regret in your heart, and that is important.  Let’s not forget how the Lord has smiled on you.  There are too many blessings to name, but we should just be thankful.  Surely you can show even more gratitude by delivering in the second half.

You have proved highly adaptable to adverse circumstances and proven resilient even with the odds stacked against you. I think that your new strategy should focus more on teamwork and tipping the odds in your favor. This will allow you to operate more comfortably, and not have to always be on the brink. The game is easy but you still have to make good passes and set your teammates up for success. We can’t really dwell too long on things that we can’t control, but in addition to having the kind of spirit that is catchable, other people still have to catch it. I’m not worried about the score or any of that though because I know what we’re capable of doing. I still believe, in my heart of hearts, that this championship is ours to lose.

Don’t go out there and try to put the world away, all at once. There is plenty of time left on the clock, remember? There isn’t much time left in this locker room, though. Now make sure that you go out there and get a good warm-up for the start of the second half. Let’s get ready to get out there and show them what we’re all about.

Let’s bow our heads. Let us pray…

[Fade to black.]

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