Maravich

Posted on May 13, 2011

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When I get to heaven, the thing I can’t wait to do is sing.

I’m already making plans for what to do with those pitch perfect nine-octave pipes that I’ll use for eternity.   I’m going to form a barber-shop quartet and rotate between bass, tenor, and beat-boxing.  I’ll follow behind people on the streets of gold and just Auto-Tune their everyday conversation with my voice.  Occasionally I’ll praise the Lord, although I’m not sure how the angelic choir will handle a vibrato-obsessed maniac drowning out the other harmonies and making up hand motions for every song.  It’s a good thing heaven will be infinitely large, because for some people paradise is hammocks, lemonade and not listening to a human karaoke machine 24/forever, so we’ll need that space, and then some.

This desire isn’t hard to trace.  I used to have an incredible singing voice.  At least I think I did.  Memory may have distorted it, but I remember it as a kind of ‘Disney animated character’ pre-teen soprano in the mold of Fievel, Aladdin, or Tevin Campbell.  It was a grade school weapon of melody in a “That thing’s operational!” kind of way.  Or so I recall.

Naturally, I ruined that voice in adolescence by forcing it to sound like Blindside, or Thrice, or whatever growly anger music that I used as an outlet for the rage that only competing in high school forensics can create.  So now my singing voice has a Tom Waits/Wilhelm scream thing happening, like a handful of marbles spinning in a blender, or a choking scare.  Goodbye, high notes.  I miss you the most when we sing the national anthem.

I blame my degraded singing on abuse because I highly doubt it was my voice changing during puberty. I didn’t even notice puberty. I gave up waiting for it to happen, like a kid falling asleep while waiting for Santa Claus, and only realized it was done after college, when I suddenly grew muscles and could back a car into a parking space. For most people I knew, puberty was like a grenade- it struck without warning and made them look deformed. But for me, puberty** was more like a Middle East peace treaty, in the sense that it lasted for about 10 years and, when it was over, not much had changed.  I’m pretty sure that included my vocal talent.

**- I solemnly swear never to use this word again.

But my point is, once upon a time I sang well. So now, whenever I sing badly, I remember how, one day, I’ll sing well again. And I’m also reminded of Pete Maravich.

Pete Maravich was basketball’s original boy wonder.  As a child Pete mastered his arsenal of trick dribbles and no-look passes, which led to his later reputation for having the premier handle of his era.  His acumen as a scorer is borne out by his collegiate scoring average- 44 points per game, in the era before the three point line.  In the NBA, that offensive reputation only grew as Pistol Pete won a scoring title with the New Orleans Jazz, and was a first ballot Hall of Famer at the age of 39, one of the youngest ever inductees.

Pete Maravich was, by all outward appearances, a basketball machine.  He even described himself in childhood as a “basketball android”.  But there was a ghost in the shell.  Pistol Pete was a restless soul.  In his downtime from the being an NBA player, Pete searched for the meaning of life.  That quest led him to dabble in UFO-ology, transcendental meditation, veganism, and more, always coming up empty.  “My life had no meaning at all, said Maravich.  “I found only brief interludes of satisfaction. It was like my whole life had been about my basketball career.”

In that way, Pete Maravich shares something with the author of Ecclesiastes.  Traditionally attributed to King Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes calls himself Qoheleth, meaning ‘Teacher’ or ‘Speaker’.  Across 12 punishing chapters, Qoheleth grapples with the apparent meaningless of life, and he’s so persuasive that we, the reader, are almost tempted to agree.  Nothing- not work, love, pleasure, even wisdom itself- withstands the scrutiny of the Teacher.  Yet amidst that hopelessness, Qoheleth writes something that brings focus to singing and Pete Maravich.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecc. 3:11)

Here in Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth unfurls the dynamic that underpins our lives.  It’s the paradox that C.S. Lewis paraphrased best when he said “Humans are amphibians – half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.”  We have eternal desires that are leashed to a world which is temporal and finite.

That natural amphibiousness means that our physical lives form a kind of electrical circuit for our eternal desires.  So when Pete Maravich picked up a basketball, the eternity in his heart leapt out and attached itself to that ball.  When I try to sing, eternity bubbles from my throat and forms a covalent bond with the notes.  Why?  Because there’s a current of eternity in our hearts- and the voltage needs somewhere to go.

That connective instinct means that our eternity is in constant dialogue with the physical world that surrounds it.  It converses with work, relationships, and hobbies.  It engages anything it can find, be it as trivial as basketball or singing, or as significant as charity work or a spouse.  The eternity in our hearts touches everything, and of everything it touches it asks the same thing:  can you support the weight of me?

In Pete Maravich’s case, his eternity asked that of basketball, then crushed it.  And when it collapsed, it sent Pete into a groping frenzy, reaching out to whatever else he could touch in the world that could hold his eternity instead.   Each thing he pursued- UFO’s, nutrition, spiritualism- was rendered incoherent by the “beginning to end” that God can fathom, but we cannot.

That “beginning to end” is the context in which our “eternity” resides.  That’s the banner we ride under.  So it makes sense that one of God’s names is the Alpha and the Omega- the beginning and end.  The only possible conductor for the electric eternity in our hearts is our infinitely large God, and both Qoheleth and Pete Maravich eventually agreed.  Qoheleth ended Ecclesiastes by saying the meaning of life is to “Fear God and keep his commandments.”; Maravich ultimately became a born again Christian.

My do-re-mi’s don’t usually live up to my expectations.  Do I wish I had a huge Steve Perry wail that could also morph into a vox sensitivo more appropriate for slow jams?  Definitely.  But if the life of Pete Maravich shows us anything, it’s that things like singing and sports are terrible carriers for the eternity God has placed inside each of us.

That’s all going to change inside the pearly gates, though.  You might want to request some earplugs when you get there.

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