W
hen asked if he had given any more thought to auditioning for the community youth symphony, Marcel sighed heavily and answered, ‘that’s one more non-athletic thing I’d be doing.’

Marcel has decided he would like to be a football player and an accomplished one at that. At nearly 12, it is now a daily occurrence to find him haranguing Roy for a 10 minute scrimmage in the backyard. I’m not sure how two people manage to even pretend to scrimmage in football. You would think that two people, left to their own devices with one football, would find something peaceful and mutually satisfying to do like play catch. Not my boys. There is tackling (what?) and keeping score (why?) and if I were the kind of small person who kept track of such things, I’d be able to tell you that a pair of glasses had to be taken in for repair and I’ve lost hours of my life to the retelling of the horrible injuries done by one to the other.

“Never in my wildest imagination did I ever dream I would have sons like these,” Bill Murray said as Herman Blume in Wes Anderson‘s Rushmore. Ten years after seeing that film as a single person, I can tell you now that I can relate.

Although, I can also relate to Marcel’s frustration over the seemingly infinite gulf between his desire to be great at something and his current level of ability at said thing. I was in first grade when my understanding of myself as a talented and promising artist was crushed when another child—who actually was both of those things—was recognized for some project or other.

The teacher did not think I was an exceptional artist! What did it mean?

It meant simply that I was not good at everything, and sometimes not even those things at which I really wanted to be.

Children live in country of where everything is possible. Even some of the older among their company still believe in magic. Evidence of the limitations of their individual potential hurts like a stubbed toe, throbbing for a while until they’ve forget about it, only to be reminded again the next time they stumble—out in the backyard, say, with their brother hanging from their neck, the ball being wrested from their hands.

I try to remind Marcel of all of the things he’s good at when his future as a professional football player seem genuinely dim. It is cold comfort to an almost-12-year-old who still feels like he should be able to be great at whatever he sets his mind to. But it is only by stumbling up against our own natural limitations that we find the edges of what is really possible, I think. That’s when we begin to grow tall and strong in earnest, our energy directed on those things that were meant to be ours all along.


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