My first experience with moments of greatness was when I heard people talking about an amazing game of basketball my father had played. It was essentially a pickup game played with the other people working at the summer camp, but my dad had done some amazing shots, apparently making baskets by shooting with his back to the hoop. Later, I heard another such story: when my dad was playing baseball in high school his speed was questioned. So, he entered a track meet and set the school record for the mile wearing baseball shoes and without any training. That record stood for quite some time.
I didn’t think much about such moments of greatness until years later and in a somewhat silly context. I was playing Halo 3 and for a few seconds I had a taste of nerdtastic greatness: my fingers flew like lighting, working the controller like a maestro playing her violin. Everything else faded into shadows and I had complete concentration. My opponents moved in slow motion and were effortlessly cut down by my terrible, swift, gun.
I had that experience a few more times while playing Halo 3, but it was never something I could do consistently. As such, it was but a small taste of the nerdy greatness that some people must dine on regularly. I have also experience this from time to time in other games, such as World of Warcraft-I will play my character to near perfection, cutting down my opponents in PvP or handling a raid boss with ease.
Of course greatness in video games is a rather lame sort of greatness. However, I have had tastes of greatness in more significant matters.
Those who have followed this blog probably know I am a long time runner. I was good in college (All Conference) but never great-except for those few times when I truly ran at the top of my ability. In those moments I felt pure, eternal and complete. I and the run were all that truly existed, the other runners and the spectators were just dim shadows. That feeling is, to say the least, amazing. While I have never achieved true and consistent greatness in sports, I have been up the mountain high enough to see the peak and thus I can really appreciate what the true greats experience. I must admit that I have felt a small twinge of jealousy and some regret-like a minor hero gazing up to Mount Olympus and seeing the gods dwelling in unreachable greatness.
I have also felt this in my other endeavors, such as teaching and writing. I have cranked out many publications, including books, but none have been great. Good, yes. Truly great…alas, no. However, I have felt that bit of greatness that one can experience while writing-the words simply flow smoothly and flawlessly, saying what I wish to say. No, not just what I wish to say-but what I should say. Great writers, can, of course, do that fairly consistently. That is what it is to actually be great-to be able to maintain that level. To be able to stay at the peak and not slide back down the mountain.
It would be, I think, easy to be a bit bitter about being merely good. After all, knowing all too well how much better other people are and really understanding that they have regularly what I can only have in very limited moments can be a bit depressing. To use an analogy, it is like having a few bites from a gourmet meal and knowing that people get such a feast regularly.
However, perspective really helps here. I think I have done the best I could do in most of my endeavors and there is no shame in that. While it sounds like a trite thing, what does matter is to go out there and do your very best, to know that you could not have done any better. Not in the sense that you fell short, but in the sense that you rose to such a height. There is great honor in doing this, more than merely doing well but falling short of what could be done.