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The Zak Zone

June 6, 2012

Early Wednesday morning — and by early Wednesday morning, I mean shortly after I woke up at 10:30 a.m. — I was sitting on my front porch enjoying some sunshine, a cool breeze, a cup of coffee and a good book, when some background noise caught my ear.

It was a repetitive series of sounds — wheels whirring across pavement, feet lifting from a surface, temporary silence and, finally, a crashing sound.

Turned out, it was my next door neighbor's oldest son trying to perfect the art of an ollie on his skateboard.

Down the road he would go, pushing a few times then coasting in preparation for his next attempt.

Then, he'd coil and attempt the perfect jump before coming down, usually just off of his board.

Now, as one who has never even set foot, or feet, on a skateboard for fear of the uncoordinated consequences, I was interested enough to take a break from my book — and from the coffee I spilled sometime between the beginning of this story and this point — to observe.

The only experience I've ever had on the board comes via one of the only video games that has ever kept me occupied for more than five minutes — Tony Hawk's Pro Skater — a game I had once perfected in my college years.

While I've never been one to attempt the extreme sport of skateboarding, the experience reminded me of a friend of mine who was known for skateboarding around campus and playing the drums when I worked as a campus minister at Westminster College.

It wasn't just the skateboard itself that reminded me of my old friend Mike, though. It was the try-try-try again mentality of the neighbor attempting to perfect this art.

Not once while I was watching did he land an ollie, and it reminded me of an experience I had with Mike.

Mike was very good at playing the drums, but he was also very good at teaching others how to play them.

As one who was never patient enough to give music lessons a try as a child, I had still always wanted to learn to play the drums.

I thought I had horrible rhythm and knew it would take more patience than I still probably possessed, but given my willing, patient teacher, I set out to accomplish my goal of learning to play the drums well enough to play the basics with a band — specifically, with the praise band at the church I was attending at the time.

At first, learning the drums was simple — a piece of cake as long as I never had to switch from playing the same beat over and over. And for the first lesson or two, that's all Mike had me do. He said I had to get accustomed to playing the basics before I could move to the next level, or it would stunt my blossoming musical growth.

So, over and over, I played the same beats he had shown me. On occasion, I tried to sneak some freestyle ones in, but he lived right across the hallway from me, so I couldn't get too creative.

I'll never forget the frustration I felt, though, when after a few weeks, I was introduced to the off-beat bass drum kick.

Finding the rhythm to play on each beat with both of my hands had gone fairly well, and I'd even incorporated the bass drum pedal into my playing pretty handily.

Mike had warned me of the frustrating off-beat bass kick, but I was sure I'd pick it up after a few tries just as I had the other lessons.

Three lessons later, I still couldn't get my foot to stomp when I wanted it to, and I was frustrated — in fact, I believe I tried to quit three or four times during one lesson.

And remember, I'm an adult at this point, not a kid whose patience might be expected to be paper-thin.

One day, though, practicing the same beats that had frustrated me over and over again, my foot found the off-beat, and I played it two or three times through without missing a beat. I had done it!

And over and over, my foot found the offbeat when I asked it to. It was like I had torn down the wall to new knowledge.

I'd only ever experienced such a feeling once in my life — when an abstract math concept came to me out of nowhere while I was playing racquetball in college.

What a joyful feeling! I could do it! And I was reminded of that instance not too long ago when I was in my aunt and uncle's living room trying to explain to a three-year-old the importance of stepping with your opposite foot when you throw a ball.

My cousin, Joelle, can throw the ball very well, but as is common, she often tries to step with the wrong foot.

After I explained it to her, and she tried unsuccessfully to fix the problem a few times, she had that "a-ha moment" and did it right all by herself — looking at me with a big smile on her face in disbelief. It was as if her eyes were asking, "Did you see that?!"

Now, she still has to think about which foot should lead, and she often asks if she's right, but when she does so, her throwing is improving with each attempt.

Back to my morning on the porch, I couldn't help but run these stories through my head as I silently pulled for my neighbor to land that ollie.

He never did — at least not while I was on the porch — and who knows how many more he'll have to try before landing one successfully.

But I kept whispering under my breath, "Keep on trying buddy," because I know the importance not only of doing it correctly but also the joy one feels when they play that offbeat, land that ollie or make a successful throw for the very first time.

Suddenly, all that hard work is worth every little bit.

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