Holding a Live Bird

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Poster for the movie The Greatest Game Ever Played starring Shia LaBeouf and Stephen Dillane.

I’ll admit it: I love a good movie about sports, especially those based on true events. One of my all-time favorite sports movies is “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” a 2005 golf drama directed by Bill Paxton based on the true story of the 1913 US Open, where 20-year-old Francis Ouimet defeated reigning champion, Harry Vardon.

Scene from the movie "The Greatest Game Ever Played" where young Francis Ouimet tries and fails to hit a golf ball in front of an audience.

Francis was the son of immigrants, part of a working-class family in Brookline, Massachusetts. Francis saw Harry Vardon at an exhibition as a 7-year-old boy and had a key interaction with Vardon, as depicted in the movie. At Vardon’s invitation to the audience to come “have a bash” with the golf club, Francis bounded onstage and was graciously greeted by Vardon. When Francis addressed the ball, he missed, was laughed at by all in attendance save Vardon and his mom, and immediately looked humiliated. Vardon’s response as he comforted the young boy, and gently taught him how to hold the golf club, is a great life lesson for us all:

“That’s all right, Francis.
Even in our darkest hour,
we must always remember,
you never despair.
Have you held
a live bird in your hands?
Not too hard to hurt her.
Just firm enough to stop it
from flying away.
Try it again.”
Close up scene from the movie "The Greatest Game Ever Played" where Harry Vardon comforts young Francis Ouimet after he fails to hit the golf ball by reminding him he must never despair and asks him if he's ever held a live bird in his hands.

I think it’s safe to say we’ve all had our share of dark moments, and many of us have despaired. Maybe we’ve been humiliated, failed publicly, or struggled to do something that seemed to come easy for everybody else. Sadly the youngest among us isn’t spared these experiences, but grapple right along with the rest of humanity with prejudice, cyber-bullying, and unmet needs from without, and feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, or their perceived different-ness from within. But none of those experiences is cause for despair: instead, each experience presents us, young and old, with an opportunity to readjust our grip, as it were, to become gentle, and to remember that life is like holding a live bird. And that it’s ok to try again, and again, and again until we get it right.

A hand gently holding a live bird, reminding us that it's okay to be gentle with ourselves in the face of disappointment and keep trying again and again.