Tuesday, January 27, 2009

New (Old) Challenges

Recently, I saw one of my favorite episodes of the "Frasier" TV series. It was first aired nearly six years ago, and it is called "Fraternal Schwinns."

In the episode, Frasier got roped into participating in a bike-a-thon that his radio station employer was sponsoring to raise funds for AIDS research. As observers soon learned, neither Frasier nor his brother Niles learned how to ride bikes when they were children. Niles teased Frasier about having to participate initially, but then Daphne, who was unaware that they didn't know how to ride bikes, suggested that she and Niles should enter the bike-a-thon as well.

At first the brothers tried to bluff their way through, going to a bicycle shop to equip themselves and making what they believed to be knowledgeable comments whenever someone was in earshot. They decided to go to a parking lot that evening to teach themselves how to ride — which was truly a case of the blind leading the blind.

Viewers didn't get to see their attempt, only the aftermath when the two returned to Frasier's apartment, but it was clearly a disaster. Niles was beside himself, babbling about "blood," and Frasier tried to console him by saying, "That wasn't your fault. That jogger should have been wearing a reflective vest!"

Their failure to "slay the dragon," as Niles called it, forced them to admit to Daphne that they never learned how to ride bikes. "All these years, it's been our secret shame," Niles confessed. Frasier said it hadn't been easy to conceal it from others. "People are always saying in conversation, 'It's just like riding a bike.' I can smile and nod, but I only understand it in theory."

Daphne promised to teach them both how to ride bikes, and that clip can be seen above. Frasier didn't acquire the skill as quickly as his brother; he continually rode into a sycamore tree, but he finally overcame that obstacle and, while laboriously yet triumphantly riding his bike, he was passed by a small child on a bike equipped with training wheels, then by a pregnant woman jogging and then, finally, by an elderly man on a scooter.

I suppose there are always, as Niles observed, "mountains to conquer," whether they are developmental challenges that children face on their road to maturity (like mastering the multiplication tables, for example) or mountains we failed to conquer as children that must be climbed later in life. Perhaps they are obstacles we face as adults, such as seeking work in recessionary times. Or more serious obstacles, like cancer, that threaten our very lives.

Whatever the obstacle we face, the lesson from "Frasier" is that we must persevere. That means, simply, remain focused on the task and don't lose sight of your goal in spite of any setbacks.

The soldiers in the civil rights battle called it "keeping your eyes on the prize."

Perhaps Jim Valvano, the basketball coach of North Carolina State University who died of cancer in 1993, said it best: "Don't give up. Don't ever give up."

Valvano said that just two months before his death. Cancer had taken a fatal hold on his body by that time. He is remembered for that line, which continues to inspire others, as it should. It was certainly an inspiration to another N.C. State coach, Kay Yow, who died last weekend of cancer.

But an equally moving portion of the statement provided more specific guidance:
"To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special."

Valvano was right. It's all too easy to forget it at times. But it's worth remembering.

In the meantime, watch the clip from "Frasier." It might give you the opportunity to do two of the three things Valvano recommended — laugh and think. Then watch the Valvano clip. It might help you with the third recommendation.