Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: On Human Hesitations

Several months ago I was sitting in an airplane on a runway at O'Hare in Chicago wondering if we were going to be able to take off in time for me to make my connection in Memphis (which we did not). During the wait I remembered a story told several years ago by my good friend, the late Dr. Rodney Wilmoth. While it is likely an "urban legend" it made a point to me at the moment. I played it over in my mind.. This is it:

Our seat belts were fastened and our seat backs and trays were in their upright locked position. Our flight attendant had just finished her speech which many of us have committed to memory.

Then something quite unusual happened. A man's voice came over the public address system. "Good morning", the voice said. "My name is Captain Thompson. It is my turn to drive the plane to Denver. We will be flying at approximately 30,000 feet and traveling at just under 600 miles per hour. We will be taking off just as soon as I get up my nerve!"

I hoped that was not what was causing our delay. All of us know the smell of fear from time to time, even when we are about to perform some routine task. More times than I would like to admit, I have sat glued to my chair, staring at the pulpit into which I was about to step, praying under my breath: "Lord, I'm not sure I am ready to do this". I can imagine a surgeon or a lawyer or judge or a salesman having the same hesitations. It is a human reaction.

When Joe Garagiola was a catcher in the major leagues he had a young pitcher out on the mound who had just come up from the team's farm club. It was his first time ever to pitch in the majors, and the first two batters he faced had both gotten hits and now were on second and third. The next batter, the one standing there in the batter's box, was none other than the Cardinal's inimitable slugger, Stan Musial.

Well, Garagiola squatted down behind home plate and flashed the signal for the fast ball, but the young pitcher shook his head to indicate that was not the pitch he wanted to throw. So Garagiola flashed the signal for the curve ball, but again the youngster shook his head to say that was not what he wanted to throw either. Joe signaled for the slider and the change up, but neither of those pitches suited the young rookie. Garagiola called time-out and ran out to the mound. "Hey, man", he said, "I've called for every pitch in the book and you've shaken them off. What do you want to throw anyway?" And the frightened young man looked Garagiola in the eyes and said: "Nothin', Joe. Nothin' at all. I just want to hold onto the ball as long as I can".

Do you understand that? Of course you do! We all know what it is like to feel fear, even in routine situations. More often than not that kind of fear is rooted in the prospect of failure. And failure is a frightening prospect. A successful life is not one in which there is no fear, but a life in which fear is overcome or managed. The possibility of failure is always present. It is part and parcel of creative living. If absolute certainty is a basic requirement for life then being born was a fundamental mistake.

We tend to overlook the possible value of failure. Unless it is constantly repeated, we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. We tend to think the only time we win is when we win. Consider the times and places in your life from which you have learned the most. It may surprise you. If you fail it does not mean you are a failure. It means that you are moving normally along the continuum toward wisdom and maturity.

An airport runway is not a parking place. It is to be used as a place from which to take off. You cannot hold the ball all day. Play ball!

Good luck!!