Monday, November 19, 2007

Golf has been very very good to me.

Mary Bea Porter-King may not realize it, but she is playing a role in my simplification process. If you don't know who she is, check out these pages:
Mary Bea Porter-King

Mary Bea Porter-King

I met Mary Bea this last fall in Bandon, Oregon while working at the USGA Mid-Amateur Championship. This was my second year on the Mid-Am Committee and the first championship I've attended. From the first moment I arrived at the resort, an interesting mix of feelings and emotions began creeping into my consciousness.
I was, all at once
excited to be part of the championship
honored that I had been chosen as a committee member (Thank you Ron Read.)
guilty for missing so much school (I hate being away from the kids, especially for that long, which will definitely influence my attendance at next year's championship.)
dismayed at the excess, extravagance and luxury of golf
anxious about the prospect of being a rules official/referee at a major amateur championship
exhausted, mostly because my arthritis was more pronounced than normal
sorry that I was not going to be able to play (because of said arthritis)
and
grateful that God has brought so many blessings - travel, people, friends, experiences, and yes stuff - into my life through golf.

The first night of formal activities included a buffet reception for the committee members and players. At the end of September I had only been seriously pursuing my simplification process for a few weeks. I think I mentioned it in another blog post, but part of the process is simplifying the activities in my life.

I stood in the reception hall so confused, arguing with myself, having a philosophical debate in the middle of several hundred men in jackets and ties.

"How can I be part of this? Here I am trying to live more simply, eliminate excess from my life so that I can focus on the important things: faith in God, my relationship with Jesus Christ, my relationships with my family and friends, my job. And now I'm part of a reception that costs who-knows-how-much. I feel like a glutton just being here. All the food and drink - it's all just too much. I don't belong here. How many of my kids would all this food feed? We all want to think this tournament is so important, but there are so many things more important. What about world hunger, world peace ...

"Of course I realize there is a place for recreation. Of course the players here take this seriously, as well they should. But what would happen if all the energy and money and time and resources were focused against some humanitarian injustice like homelessness?

"Are you forgetting that the USGA does a lot of charitable giving? Through golf, thousands of kids receive life-skills.

"I know, I know. Leave me alone so I can enjoy some appetizers."

During the meeting for committee members, the feeling only got worse.

"Most of the men on this committee are rich, affluent, influential business men. They own homes in more than one state, belong to more than one club, mostly high-end private clubs. These are men who drive cars that cost more than my house, and own several of them. They golf often and play well (neither of which describes my golf game of the last few years). These are men of power and here I am: a poor school counselor whose net worth is negative (due mostly to student loans). I don't fit in with this group. I can't believe they would even invite me to be part of this committee. They have obviously made a mistake; I have made a mistake. I shouldn't be here."

I seriously considered writing/calling/e-mailing Ron Read (He's the USGA Manager of Western Regional Affairs and the person responsible for my committee appointment. I owe him many thanks.). I was going to tell him that he made a horrible mistake and I was going to resign from the committee. Although I hadn't written anything down, by the next morning I had a letter drafted in my head, ready to be recorded.

I'm glad I didn't.

My first day on the course as an official was ... surprising. I felt so comfortable. As uncomfortable and out of place as I was the night before, on the course, as an official, I felt so comfortable. I knew that I belonged. This had not been a mistake.
The fact that I was on the Oregon coast didn't hurt. It was gorgeous, even in the midst of a sideways rainstorm that soaked me to the bone, the Oregon coast is a place of unmatched beauty. Bandon Dunes Golf Resort is a unique place that every golfer should experience. But I digress ...

One afternoon, as I exited the USGA office, I ran into Mary Bea. I told her about my feelings of discomfort, that I didn't fit in with the other committee members. I don't know why I told her. Probably because she's a nice person and has the demeanor of a very wise person, especially when it comes to matters of golf.

She told me (and of course this is a paraphrase since I don't record or take notes on all my conversations, although maybe I should start), "Chris, you're preaching to the choir. I don't fit in either, mostly because I'm a woman. 'Girls aren't allowed.' I play my golf at a public golf course."

I would guess that Mary Bea is comfortably wealthy, but she does not wear her wealthy like a shield, or a weapon. She is approachable and warm. Don't get me wrong. The men on the committee did not look down on me because of my status, or lack thereof. My feelings were internally generated, not a result of anything they did or didn't do. I met several very nice committee members who welcomed me and told me how pleased they were I was part of the committee.

Mary Bea let me know that even if I don't fit in, I still belong.

That phrase sank in over the next few days, and continues to occupy my thoughts.
I fit in. I belong.
I don't fit in, but I do belong.
I fit in, but I don't belong.
I don't fit in. I don't belong.

I guess that I thought those two were at least similar, at most synonymous. They're not. How many of my students fit in with their adolescent peers, but don't feel like they belong. Is it more important for kids to fit in or belong? Is it more important for adults to fit in or belong? I digress again ...

Fast forward to this last week. I received a package in the mail from the USGA. It was a very nice note from Ellie Marino (of the USGA) and gift from Mary Bea. When I opened it and saw the stuff my first reaction was, "I don't need more stuff. I'm trying to get rid of things, not get new things." When I read the note, my whole outlook changed.

One of my criteria, possible the most important criteria for keeping things is: the item must have current meaning or utility.

This gift from Mary Bea has very current meaning. It is not just an item to add to my list; it is a reminder that I can belong without fitting in. It is a protector of my self-esteem. It helps me remember that I have influence in my school - students, teachers, parents - but that I can also be a man of influence in other realms. I can be influential in the world. Maybe not like most of the committee members, but in my own unique way I have influence.

Mary Bea reminded me that being a school counselor is noble. I'm not "just" a school counselor. I am a school counselor. I am important to so many people and sometimes I forget that. I know that probably sounds stupid or boastful. Sometimes I forget that God has placed me here for a reason. I am school counselor because God "enlarged my territory." I am a USGA Mid-Amateur Championship Committee Member because God "enlarged my territory."

What can be more simple than trusting God and accepting his will?

Thank you Mary Bea.

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