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How Bob Marley, Anastasia, Shaun and Christine tamed my strange stress

On May 1st, I began driving (mostly solo) around the country asking some of America's best teachers, "If you had just one day to teach one class one lesson, what would it be?" Along the way I'm searching for answers to my own question: How should I live the rest of my life?... I hope you won't mind me (in my mother's words) "baring my soul." Writing helps. Having readers with whom I can share my deepest thoughts makes traveling (and life) less lonely.

May 14, 2023 (Mother's Day)

I woke up in the dark at a Holiday Inn in Chinle. Chain hotels are everywhere, even on a Navajo Reservation tucked into northeast Arizona.

I tossed and turned, but it was useless. Sleep wasn't going to come. Stressed, I gave up and got up.

One of my missions on this circuitous journey around the continental U.S. is to hang new nets on basketball rims with tattered nets (or no nets at all). I spotted six needy hoops at Chinle Junior High and promised principal Melissa Martin that I'd be there the next morning to provide them with love and care.

That's why I couldn't sleep.

I used to be good at putting nets on hoops. The old kind. Now, because real rims are too easily damaged, the trend is toward heavy duty double rims.

They suck. First, they're hard to shoot on. You rarely get the roll. Second, I had never put a net on a double rim. I wasn't sure I could. So I watched this video at least ten times. The part from 3:22 — 4:32. (I don't expect you to watch it — unless you need to hang a net.)

The video helped. I'm grateful that people make super specific and detailed instructional videos, such as "How to Hang a Basketball Net." Thanks Basketball Manitoba (37.4K subscribers! Who knew?) But it didn't quell my anxiety.

double rim — bad!

single rim — good!

It was more than the nets. If I couldn't figure out how to hang them, not only would I be breaking my promise to Melissa, part of my trip's purpose would be lost. Before I left California, I bought every net at Big 5 and a ladder from Lowe's that would fit inside my Hyundai Tucson. (I bought that too.)

But what good would my preparation be if couldn't perform a basic task? What if I'm incompetent? What if this trip turns out to be a dumb idea? What if I fail at all of it?

Utterly alone, watching the sunrise in Canyon de Chelly, I thought about why I was so stressed about something that probably shouldn't be causing me stress.

Seth Godin says anxiety is "experiencing failure in advance." That's exactly what I was doing.

Then I thought about how Melissa's husband Shaun Martin, the principal of Chinle Elementary, told me he's grateful for challenges, and even hardships, because, as distressing as they are, they make us better.

I thought about how in "Redemption Song," Bob Marley wrote

"Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds."

I get it. And I agree. But how? How can we free our minds from mental slavery? I wish Marley was still around so I could ask him if he ever did.

I thought about how in "Journey to the Past" (from Anastasia) Lynn Ahrens wrote,

"Heart, don't fail me now! Courage, don't desert me! Don't turn back now that we're here. People always say life is full of choices; no one ever mentions fear."


"One step at a time. One hope, then another... Who knows where this road may go?"

"Journey to the Past" was written for a character, a young woman, stepping out into the world alone for the first time. I'm an old man venturing out into the world alone for (probably) the last time. Still, like Anastasia, in addition to fear, I switch between nervousness, hope, loneliness and joy. This trip (this life) is bad. It's good. It's bad. It's good. It's...

But you know what? I've found facing even what most would call a silly fear — the fear of not being able to attach a net to a hoop — is growth-inducing and life-enhancing. In this instance, because I showed up with my ladder and nets, I was reminded of something I too often forget — that we're not in this life alone. There are people who can and will help — like custodian Christine.

She was surprisingly adept at hanging hoops. In the time it took me to hang two (I figured it out!), she put up four. I anticipated struggling alone. Instead, I connected with a wonderful, talented person with whom I instantly formed a bond. My loneliness and anxiety eased.

For now.

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