01. MUST BE PRESENT TO WIN
In the early 1990s, a former car salesman named Bud Selig devised a plan to displace the head of Major League Baseball.
His first task was to convince the owner of the Texas Rangers to support the coup—a young oil magnate. In return for loyalty, Selig dangled the keys to the kingdom: a chance to become Major League Baseball Commissioner when the dust had settled.
The overthrow was successful, but Selig never made good on the promise. He sat himself on the MLB throne in 1992 and never stood for a seventh inning stretch...until 2015, at the age of eighty.
But in 2001, one might say that the slighted Texan scored a home-run of his own. He never did become MLB commissioner, but he wouldn't retire a ball-boy, either.
As a matter of fact, he became President of the United States.
Who was this cowboy, you ask? George W. Bush, of course. He forewent his 'dream job' as general manager of America's favorite past-time to become general manager...of America.
I remind myself of this bizarre anecdote quite often, particularly in periods of inescapable uncertainty (hint: right now).
On three tours as an expat, I've often wondered if destiny was manifesting itself back home, like a lottery where 'you must be present to win.' It takes weeks to shake the feeling that fate is playing pinball in some Williamsburg dive bar, while I wander untethered.
One of the greatest challenges of the human condition is the assumption that we are in a holding pattern, maybe even at the wrong airport. And it is hardly a modern invention. John Greenleaf Whittier summarized the concept with tragic concision in 1856:
For all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these: 'It might have been.'
My question is this: could there be a magnificence in greeting the discomfort of uncertainty without judgement?
Oprah Winfrey tells the story of how she surrendered her heart-wrenching obsession to be cast in The Color Purple while jogging. She released the desire so ruthlessly—a culmination of running, singing and sobbing—that she was even able to imagine wishing a competitor well if they landed the part that she so wanted.
In her moment of surrender, the phone rang. It was Steven Spielberg on the line (you know, casual). Oprah Winfrey was to star in the Color Purple afterall, and was instructed not to run off another pound.
This is not permission to be passive by any stretch of the imagination. Oprah went to the audition. In my several decades of life, there is one thing I know for sure: I've never regretted chasing the things that make my heart race. I'm not talking about the dangerous palpitations that follow addictions or grand larceny or jerks - but rather the people and places that make your heart ache with the desire to discover them.
The fault, I think, lies in our judgement of the voyage itself.
The things that are meant for us often come with trying circumstances or packaging, as if we are being challenged to prove our worthiness of them. While resistance is sometimes looked upon as the harbinger of bad news, I try to recall whether or not the subject felt expansive at first blush. The lure of what-if maroons us on rocky shores from time to time, and the words of bystanders—they themselves riddled with cowardice—reverberate between our ears. But even in the face of all this, I find that tranquility is eventually gifted to those who are courageous enough to set sail or speak the truth in an uncertain present.
Departing once more, I recall the great explorers who took up the call of distant lands (often for the sake of finding themselves, or gold, or a time-traveling DeLorean). Homer's Odysseus stands out in particular; we met on the steps of Columbia's Low Library many years ago. I've kept his meditation from Book Five in my wallet for a decade:
"And if some god batters me far out on the wine-blue ocean, I will endure it, keeping a stubborn spirit inside me...so let this adventure follow."
That simple salute to the moment—with no fear attached to the future, or the sound of crashing waves—is, to me, his most heroic feat in the book.
Onward, to Moscow.
Transmission 01 // Week 1 of 45 // New York, NY