I did not think to call this Common Man to come help me. He had come and gone and promised coming again before I get there in the first place.
His appearance is the Uncaused Cause, of Creation, of Redemption and of End Things Creation is vast, but limited. Redemption is expansive, but limited. The End Things are pointed to the multitude (all shall know) but also, well, limited. We might use the word restricted. Aquinas almost certainly meant restricted rather than limited. Aristotle may not have known the word but he had the concept; what is caused is restricted in spatial, temporal and every particular way of existing.
Years ago I taught basketball to youngsters. That is, I taught the fundamentals of the game to people who just wanted to enjoy the game. I was Coach Buzz-Kill.
In fact, however, the game is great fun if a player can avoid running out of bounds, carrying the ball (remember traveling?) and generally playing well enough to avoid getting trounced. Winning is better than losing.
No one ever cried, “Lose one for the Gipper.”
So, I taught very young players the dimensions of the court, the parts of the court, how to get from one place to another on the court with real purpose and how to do better today than yesterday. I taught aggression, one young man told me, and his friends said, “You taught controlled aggression.:
The truth is, you cannot shoot the ball from out of bounds. I mean, you can, but it will not count. Yes, I had a player shoot a ball from a mile out of bounds and make it. He was ecstatic. The crowd went wild. His shot counted for nothing, because he was actually assigned to pass the ball inbounds to make a play legal.
Rules restrict us. Rules give particularity to a game. Rules restrict us temporally. A half is twenty minutes long; no shot made at half-time counts on the scoreboard.
Restrictions, limits, exclusions in space, time and all particularity give us shape and borders, shapes life. I could not add an inch of height or a fast-twitch fiber to any of my players. They were as they were, when I found them, when they left.
The Common Man, the Perfect Villain, is the Uncaused Cause. I need him. He wants me. I did not cause him. He does not need my redemption. He caused me. I need his redemption.
The happiest memory of my coaching life was of a boy I will call J. J was not a good athlete, not a basketball player at all. He was a little slow all over. We worked hard with him on his form, on aggression, on his knowledge of the game.
There was not much there.
Late in the only season I had J, we were trying to capture the top seed for the post-season tournament. In a game we were winning, but not by much, the opposing coach earned a technical foul. He really earned it.
One of my best shooters, R, went to the line to shoot the two free throws we were awarded because the other coach could not always speak appropriately.
“J,” I yelled, “go shoot the free throws.”
R. backed off the line. J went in his place.
I am not sure who was more surprised; J, his single mom, or me. I am not sure any of us believed I was going to let him shoot the free throws.
He hit the first one. I plopped down like I was dead. His mother started crying. J smiled sheepishly.
J had never scored a point before that night. He never got a hit in baseball, or, well, you get the idea.
A coach has to understand limits of time, space and particularity. A coach has to find ways to put his players in the best place for them, where they can be the best they can be at the moment. Kevin Durant or LeBron James can play anywhere.
J could not play just anywhere.
Neither can I. Nor can you.
There must be someone who knows our limits and puts us in the best place for us.
This will require the Uncaused Cause because no one else would care enough. I don’t believe, won’t believe we are just out on the court alone, slow and plodding, against cosmic odds that would make the Buddha diet. There must be more.