I needed an idea for my next blog post, and then it hit me. Twice in one day.
I should have seen it coming, too, ever since my ego started getting a little oversized last week.
It all began with the first U.S. Tennis Association singles match of my life. Granted, I’m playing in a league full of guys who have moderate tennis skills and are all older than 40. Wimbledon it is not. But the competition is serious, and I didn’t have any idea of what to expect from my opponent. Would he destroy me in the first league-sanctioned tennis match I’d ever played? Would he make a fool out of me in front of my teammates?
As it turned out, my serve was inconsistent but everything else was clicking on this warm, gorgeous April evening. In less than an hour, I handed this guy the worst possible defeat: 6-0, 6-0 – the mythical “double bagel.” When my teammates learned the score, they were high-fiving me all the way to the parking lot. The next day the captain of our team sent out an email singling out my accomplishment. For days afterward, the congratulations kept coming. Even my wife, who knows by now not to be dazzled by anything I do, bragged to some friends.
Between this victory and being recognized recently as “Man of the Year” at my kids’ elementary school, I was thoroughly enjoying my sudden status as someone I never thought I’d be – an athletic pillar of the community.
Then just two days ago I was walking from the kids’ school to the parking lot after helping out with a volunteer reading program – the very work, in fact, that earned me “Man of the Year” honors. I was remarking on the bleak weather to my wife and a good friend when something wet landed on my head. It felt too big to be a raindrop. Also, it wasn’t even raining. Was it water dripping off the tree I’d just passed?
I wasn’t that lucky. It was good old-fashioned bird poop, a generous splash of it smack in the center of my bald head. I thought briefly about disguising this disaster from my female companions, but, if you’ve never tried it, it’s hard to act nonchalant when you’ve been doused with white, pasty bird poop. I made a split-second decision to own this situation, calling attention to it and cheerfully noting, as these sensitive ladies quickly dissolved from sympathy into laughter, that it might have been worse. At least the poop had missed my shirt, which was the last clean one in my closet. And not having any hair would make the clean-up pretty easy.
All spic and span later that day, I arrived at the tennis courts adjoining the kids’ school to watch my son finish a lesson. Another father showed up and announced, “Hey, Stephen, I’ve heard the word ‘stud’ used in association with you lately. Something about you shutting out some poor guy in your match last week.”
Trying to maintain at least a touch of humility, I eventually steered the conversation toward the morning’s bird poop adventures, which were gleefully received by him, his wife and, of course, my wife.
I’d just finished mocking myself when something glanced off the front of my chest. Was it debris from the tree directly above me? No, it was bird poop – again! – a hundred yards from where I’d been hit eight hours earlier, purple and nasty this time and splattered all over one of my favorite shirts.
What are the odds?
Before I could even stand up, the father had grabbed his phone and taken a picture of my shirt and then the tiny bird sitting on a branch high above us. “Stephen might be a stud on the courts, but he’s no match for this little bird!” he intoned to hysterical shrieks of laughter. I left them all doubled over, gasping for air, as I retreated to the bathroom to salvage my shirt.
“I have prayed for years for one good humiliation a day,” Fr. Richard Rohr writes in his superb book on spirituality Falling Upward.
But are two really necessary?