Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Basketball, Physics, and the Pursuit of Beauty

Last night, the Half Moon Bay boys' basketball team lost its Northern California Championship semifinal playoff game, ending its season and effectively drawing to a close the basketball careers of most of its senior players.

Among those seniors: my second child, my heart's joy, Zach. Like his teammates, Zach was devastated after the loss, weeping openly and turning to his teammates and his parents for solace. Disbelief—one of grief's commonest manifestations—had reconfigured his face. His career could not be over! Yet it was.

When I got home from the game, I turned to the Internet for distraction. At some point I came across the following video, which, according to the The Atlantic, had gone viral over the last couple of days. It captures the moment when a physicist, Andrei Linde, learns that his life work on the origin of the universe has been finally proved correct:

One can imagine the long hours, the setbacks, the obstacles and discouraging days—years—that brought Linde to his moment of triumph. We don't see the daunting work in this clip but its reward. Only from his face—reconfigured, too, by disbelief—and from his wife's slumped joy can we infer those years of struggle.

But aside from their joy and relief, what most struck me about the video was a comment by Linde himself: "I always live with this feeling. What if I am tricked? What if I believe in this just because it is beautiful?"

It's good, I thought, to be reminded that scientists, too, are guided by beauty. The beauty of Linde's idea reassured him, over 30 long years, that he was not wrong.

Which returns me to Zach and last night's loss. Basketball has given those boys—they are now young men—a realm in which to do something beautiful. They have been a joy to watch; their pursuit of beauty—what their coaches would likely call excellence—has been relentless; and as spectators to their passion, our joy has increased as their skill improved, as their play became more beautiful.

Last night, the game over, the season done, we mourned what they—and we—mistook as defeat. After the game some of the boys probably wondered, as Linde did, if those long hours had been worth it—if beauty had tricked them. The season, after all—a season of their lives—had come to an end.

But watching Linde and imagining his journey, it occurred to me that in both science and athletics, properly understood, there are no defeats. Yesterday's failure prepares both the scientist and the athlete for future success.

So, yes, the season is over—but its lesson remains: guided by beauty, working hard to be excellent, we are fully alive; living beautifully, we bring those around us to life. We touch the world with our grace, our truth.

Last night, Zach, I did not mourn because you'd lost a basketball game. I mourned because I will never see you play with your team again. You guys—all of you, together—were beautiful. I will miss that beauty.

But I take comfort in the knowledge that you have learned, like Andrei Linde, to trust what you find beautiful. You were not wrong to see beauty in basketball and to pursue that beauty with passion and love. Now, a marvelous season behind you, go forward, my son, living as you played: gracefully, fiercely, with your whole heart. If you do that, more hard-earned triumphs await.

1 comment:

  1. This indeed is the beauty of athletics: to prepare, joyfully and energetically, to try... to try with one's heart and will to do the best our talents, preparation and guts will carry us: to try to win. To prepare well and "leave it all on the court", in the end, is to win. Zach and his mates entered the magical zone of team sports: the coming together of the individual athlete and his skills, successes and struggles with those that play and work with him. To play is often enough, but to play and prepare hard should always be enough. Congratulations Zach... you are a wonderful example to your adoring grandpa at a time when your grandpa needs softly smiling heroes such as yourself. I am very proud of you, and I love you very much Zach. Great year!!