Tolstoy writes at the beginning of Anna Karenina that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
I don’t care to comment at any length about this sentiment, except to say that a) I doubt its veracity and also that b) perhaps even thinking it’s true could be unhealthy. My sense is that people will take any opportunity to romanticize their flaws. Considering the popularity of films like Trainspotting and books like A Million Little Pieces—texts, that is, which explore drug use, depression, or just irresponsible behavior, in general—I think we can safely say that people are fascinated by human weakness.
Still, I’ll argue now and forever that the opposite should be the case. There’s a moral imperative, I will argue, to celebrate humans behaving well. It’s our responsibility, I will argue, to champion those who make the people around them feel more human—perhaps even divine.
Having said that, I’ve noticed something in my own feelings about great athletes—namely, that it is impossible for me to eulogize them (ie the athletes) in what I consider a satisfactory way, because, at root, I feel the same way about all the athletes I love. A poem I wrote some time ago about Jiri Welsch—and which you can read here, if you dare—deals with this issue. At the time that I wrote it, I was fantastically enamored of Welsch, a Czech player who spent some time with the Celtics. The grounds for my attraction are still not entirely clear to me, but undeniable still. Thing is, as much as I wanted to render my lovingkindness in print, it was borderline impossible. So, instead of writing a poem about Welsch, I wrote this poem about having just written a poem about Welsch. Hence, every section of the poem begins with some permutation of the line “When I finished my poem for Jiri…” The idea was that, being unable to write a poem about Jiri, I would write a poem in which I already had written one about him. It’s a total, utter case of wish fulfillment.
I’m now finding myself with a similar inability to properly celebrate Portland Trailblazers guard Rudy Fernandez, the same guy who does things like
I assume that, so long as you possess even the tiniest capacity for awe, then Rudy Fernandez has helped you feel it in this video. In particular, his lefty floater off the botched alley-oop—that, and, of course, the bounce pass between the legs—these are examples of a highly-functioning human demonstrating totally conspicuous acts of wit and imagination. They are manifest physically, sure; but, they are metaphors for what any one of us can (what I would like to) do intellectually.
But what else is there to say about Rudy other than “That’s great!”? How do you write about him in a way that could conceivably add to his incredibly apparent greatness? William James, FC Happold, and Abraham Maslow all write that one aspect of religious experience is its noetic quality. In mystical states (call them peak experiences, if that makes you more comfortable), one feels access to a type of knowledge that is not got-at by discursive thought. The mystic acts without self-consciousness. Many athletes report instances of flow—essentially a secular description of that same thing: a total involvement in the activities, a sense of mastery, a lack of self-consciousness. Rudy Fernandez embodies these traits conspicuously.
To re-introduce Tolstoy, I’d like to think that it’s not true that happy families are all the same. That seems uninteresting to me and, again, merely a penchant we humans have for finding something important in our own flaws. That said, it seems like it might be impossible to say anything very interesting about greatness—greatness in the form of Rudy Fernandez, for example. Perhaps all we’re able to do is bear witness to it. Perhaps all we can say is, “That’s what the best case scenario is” and then move on.