It’s high summer and I’m apologizing about once or twice a week to people whom I’ve slighted either by commission or omission.
What was it a sports psychologist told me once? That the pros didn’t beat themselves up because, while they were confident, they knew at the same time that they weren’t perfect nor could they ever be. And so, in taking that extra pressure off themselves, they were able to get nearer to perfection than a perfectionist could.
Of the latter sort, for several years I’ve sighed every now and then in recalling that I misspelled the last name of the wife of an interviewee, leading off with an “A” instead of an “O.” I made the correction the following week, but still. . .
Recently, in writing the obituary of the great runner Andy Neidnig, I said he’d done the New York marathon in two hours and 57 minutes at the age of 70 — about 35 minutes quicker than he actually had. That chagrined me too, as did the inversion of the final letters of a surname with which I was quite familiar in the caption of a photo that accompanied an article on the Max Cure Foundation.
I should have accepted long ago that that’s the way it is, that journalism cannot brook perfectionists, or alleged perfectionists. By the same token, slap-dash work ought not be given a pass, or even worse, be cynically dismissed as the norm.
I know that the above-mentioned errors are not cardinal sins, yet I am bothered — and humbled — by them. (Mary would say that in my case whatever humbles me is salvific.)
A cardinal sin in my parlance is when someone living has been referred to as “the late so-and-so” — as I have done one or two, maybe three times in my career!
No, maybe only two, for in one case, after having been questioned by the alleged deceased’s cousin, who’d been out of the country for a while, I emerged triumphant (just this side of gleeful) on learning in the library’s reference room next door that the person I had assumed to be dead, a well-known drama critic, was so in fact.
To continue with my list, more recently I slighted the masters swimming coach, unaccountably crediting another with the hard work he puts in.
When a few days later I confessed to Tim Treadwell my “bad mistake,” he cut me off before I could begin to apply the lash. “It wasn’t a bad mistake, Jack.”
And soon we were talking about the benefits swimming confers, on those of any age. When I said I was untutored in the sport, old, and frail, Tim said reassuringly, “There’s a lane for everybody.”
I like that. A lane for everybody. Even for a wretch like me. Jack Graves
P.S. And there’s a line for everybody too. For my Aug. 23 column I cherry-picked several, as a matter of fact, from Emily Dickinson’s “Wild Nights — Wild Nights!”
A friend said he’d liked especially what I’d written at the end . . . “rowing in Eden, done with the compass, done with the chart.”
I readily confessed (to him and to you) that I’d lifted those lines from the Belle of Amherst, and had rearranged the sexes (rather cleverly, I thought) in ‘might I but moor — tonight — In thee!’
“Those of her poems that I understand I love,” I said. “I’m sorry to have misled you. I wish I were, but I, sir, am no Emily Dickinson.”