Several months ago when the SEALS took out OBL, I asked a friend of mine who was a reservist stationed in the area: “What happened?” He gave a similarly simple answer: “He took his eye off the ball.”
Certainly there was more to it than that but the unraveling of our No. 1 enemy’s security had to start somewhere. A failure on his part to follow up on something; a failure to adequately cover his or his household’s tracks after an outing; a failure to shut the blinds. Whatever the triggering event was, it had to begin at home, with him. He took his eye of the ball.
Failing to keep your eye on the sport ball results in swings and misses, dropped passes or catches, or missed critical plays. Failing to keep your eye on the “life” ball results in missed opportunities, bad judgment calls and even death, as in the case of OBL.
The “life” ball for each of includes, at least partially, our responsibilities to our families and friends. Accomplishing a specific goal or achieving a prize as a marker of success would also be included. And in many of our lives, more than one ball is in play at one time yet we only have two eyes with which to watch them. The distractions are as numerous as they are varied.
The external interferences we face such as financial or work related distress certainly distract us. When, however, internal factors come into play as well the pressure on our wandering eyes is more than doubled. Chief among these would be pride. Pure and simple. It leads us to discard moral and conventional constraints in our quest to achieve our goals or preserve our status. It produces a kind of fear in us: A fear that if we fail, we won’t be as highly thought of any longer, fear being nothing more than a cousin of pride.
The refusal to recognize the importance these guide posts (the “straight and narrow”, if you will) frees us, we think, to continue our pursuits regardless of cost. Put another way, we succumb to the notion that we can operate in the shadows to achieve or preserve without fear of a spotlight. We forget that without that light that we can no longer see the ball.
And this is sheer folly,
I remember an experience I had as a boy about a goal and distractions. My brother and I were building a tree house one summer along a canal feeding into a lake. The only way to get from our side of the canal to the tree on the other side, without using a boat, was to traverse a dam between the canal and lake. The dam had a four foot flood gate that had long since rotted out leaving a gap in the middle of the narrow foot wide dam. The only way across that gap was to jump it.
My brother, older and athletic, had to jump back and forth to convince me that there was nothing to it (not only was I younger but considerably less athletic). I couldn’t muster up the courage: As much as I wanted to make the jump, I was distracted by the water on either side and the prospect of missing and falling in. As he stood on the other side, he told me to look at him, “don’t look down” (really, he did), and take the leap. I did, he steadied me on the other side, and I overcame the distraction and the fear that came with it.
The fear was that I’d be unsuccessful and, therefore, less thought of which would be hurtful to...my pride. In “keeping my eye on the ball”, however, I not only put that fear (pride) aside but succeeded in something that was more important, strengthening the fraternal bond with my brother.
That summer has long passed but I reflect on that day often. Of late I’ve had more opportunity to do so in an effort to put recent events in perspective. There’s no astounding conclusion here nor profound observation. We all know it: If we put others first and put ourselves last and keep everyone in their place, then we’ll stay out of the shadows.
Meaning, of course, keep your eye on the ball.