Throughout most of my athletic activities I have not covered myself in a great deal of personal glory. One year, for example, I played on the second string Pittsburgh Posse basketball team, for which I was a backup point guard who spent most of the game riding the pine. During six games at a particular Winter Family Weekend, our team lost all six games, the first four of them by more than 50 points apiece. Only the last game was competitive, and we still managed to lose that game by six points or so. Thankfully, most of my athletic endeavors in volleyball, a sport I prefer and play far more often, have not been close to that embarrassing, but even here I tend to be a competent team player with occasional flashes of brilliance and occasional lapses of concentration befitting someone as absent-minded and easily distracted as I am . As someone who is greatly interested in sports without being the most athletically talented person, I make the following observations of someone who as a great deal of compassion for those I am writing about, as I have definitely been in the same situation myself.
Having been born just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I make it a point to keep up and support my “hometown” teams in various athletic endeavors. This means that I keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, and their struggle to defend their crown. As I write this, they are well into the best-of-seven Conference Championships, where they have a 3-2 series lead and home-ice advantage should it come down to a deciding seventh game. Their current series with the Ottawa Senators has been decidedly uneven, to say the least. After being surprised in a Game 1 loss at home and a lopsided 5-1 loss in Game 3, the Penguins evened the series with a narrow Game 4 win and then stormed to a 7-0 win in Game 5. Clearly, this is a series with a great deal of oscillation between two teams that can be either very good or very bad on any given night. Most people may not care very much about hockey, but anyone with any knowledge of hockey will readily understand that it is difficult to imagine the same two teams only a few nights apart going from a 5-1 win for one team to a 7-0 win for the other team. One would expect there to be a greater balance in the way the games went.
In following the sports journalism about this immensely exciting series, at least for those who enjoy hockey, I have noticed the effort that people have made in contrasting the Game 3 beatdown with the Game 5 beatdown, and attempting to draw a contrast between the two. In Game 3, for example, Pittsburgh went down 3-0 in a disastrous first period but managed to claw a goal back to 5-1 in the third period. This was seen as evidence that Pittsburgh, even on an off night, still had some fight left in them. In contrast, after Pittsburgh went up 4-0 in the first period in Game 5, the flattened Senators seemed not to be able to offer up any serious efforts at narrowing the gap and ended up losing in a rare runaway shutout. Given the two teams involved, it is impossible to tell beforehand how the series will end, given that either of the teams could score half a dozen goals or be shut out. We will see, once the rest of the games play out, whether Pittsburgh is the more resilient of these evenly matched teams or whether yesterday was just a very rare off-night for a successful Senators team. There is still at least one more game in Ottawa, and perhaps another in Pittsburgh, before a winner is crowned in glory to play for the Stanley Cup.
How may we apply this sort of situation to ourselves? Athletics is not the only human endeavor where there are days in which we are everything is going on our ways and days where we feel like flattened armadillos or squished possums on the road. There are going to be days that simply do not go well for us, days where every conversation appears to go awry, where we get stuck behind slow traffic and get every light red, and where we do not even have the comfort of a good night’s sleep after an immensely stressful day. On such days, can we show that we have some fight in ourselves, and that we can struggle to do the good thing and the gritty thing even after the point where it is no longer to turn a terrible day into even a mediocre one, much less a good one? After all, there is still another day tomorrow, and the fight we show on days that seem hopeless can make a difference in allowing us to do better in the future.
 See, for example: