A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


Not too long ago I was playing in a church-league basketball game.

OK, maybe "playing" is too strong of a word to use in this context. "Surviving" would be better. Or "enduring." Or "trying not to hurt or humiliate myself," which would be seven words, but would be infinitely more accurate than "playing."

This should come as no surprise. I'm old enough to remember when basketball players were measured by height and weight, not the number of tattoos and the size of their entourage. I should know better than to get on the floor with guys who think of Bill Bradley as a Senator -- not a Knick.

My eldest son, Joe, talked me into it. The idea was that I would be his back-up. And since he likes bench-warming about as much as Dennis Rodman likes Mozart, I figured I was just getting a good seat from which to watch the game. But neither Joe nor I anticipated the shoulder injury that would force me into the game while the outcome was still very much in doubt.

Of course, mentally I knew what to do. I played high school ball. I've watched the NBA. I've coached youth basketball teams, for Pete's sake. The problem was getting my 44-year-old body to do what my mind said it should do. I found myself zigging when I should have zagged, jumping when I should have kept my feet on the ground and shooting when I should have known better.

All of which was OK. I knew I was trying to do my best, and everyone on the team seemed to understand. We were having a good time, and the game remained amazingly close until Roger, a former colleague who was officiating the game, made a horrible call against me.

Please don't misunderstand. This wasn't a questionable call. It was atrocious. Everyone in the gym could see it, including our opponents. The call (and the ensuing technical foul on our team for protesting it) resulted in a five-point swing in the score, and we ended up losing by two.

And yes, I'll admit it, I was mad. After the game I walked up to Roger as he was zipping his jacket. He smiled and extended his hand in friendship. I kept my hands in my coat pockets.

"You blew it, Roger," I told him. "You cost us the game."

There were probably a lot of things he could have said, like how we might not have lost if I had been able to hit an occasional lay-up. Instead, he thrust his hand into his own pocket.

"Maybe I did make a mistake," he said softly. "If I did, I'm sorry." He turned to leave, then stopped to face me once again. "Tell you what," he said. "I'll make a deal with you for next time. I'll promise to call a perfect game if you'll promise to play a perfect game."

He was right, of course. It was unfair to expect perfection of him if I wasn't willing to expect it of myself as well. The simple fact is, we all fall humanly short of perfection at times -- if not in one arena, then in another. The meticulous surgeon who never loses a patient may be all thumbs when it comes to personal relationships. The gymnast who scores a "10" on the balance beam may find her scholastic life totally out of balance. The confident actor who delivers a flawless performance onstage may be riddled with insecurity once the spotlight dims.

Life has a way of distributing parcels of imperfection to each of us. That's what makes us unique -- and interesting. Our goal, therefore, isn't to lead perfect lives; rather, it is to overcome imperfection in order to find success. And the funny thing is, as we allow one another humanity and help each other rise above imperfection, we somehow become more "perfect" ourselves.

Even if we're just trying not to get hurt or humiliated.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and