Thought for the week: Joseph Jones’s game theory

‘Often it’s only in retrospect that I recognise some moment of grace, progress, or connection.’

‘As you’d imagine, emotions ran high.’ | Photo: Egon Kramminger by Manfred Werner / Tsui (Wikimedia Commons)

One of the things I most cherish about worshipping with Friends is our determination to recognise the sacred in the everyday. Most famously, perhaps, this means we resist designating certain times or events as ‘special’. But the day-to-day search for meaning goes deeper than that. It’s a commitment to being alive to the ‘promptings of love and truth’ in every moment.

To be honest, I fail at this much more than I’d like. Often it’s only in retrospect that I recognise some moment of grace, progress, or connection – and, worse, it sometimes registers as a missed opportunity.

Exactly a decade ago, I was working as a journalist for the Olympic News Service at the 2012 London Games. I was interviewing athletes as they finished their events, catching them in the immediate moments following the high drama of competition.

As you’d imagine, emotions ran high. I remember one table tennis player in particular. His name was Egon Kramminger and he’d made the tournament against the odds, having broken his pelvis just four months before. (He hadn’t noticed for a month because, after a spinal chord injury and leg amputation as a teenager, he had no feeling there.)

Egon’s journey to the Games had begun as a twenty-year-old in 1968, playing on his stomach. No one took him for an international player and he wasn’t, not until he’d had twenty-five years of hard practice. In 1995, after almost three decades of incremental improvement, he made the Austrian team that won the European championships. A decade after that, he made the final on his own, taking silver. Five years on again, he was at the London Games.

By now he was sixty-four years old. When I talked to him he was exultant: he was told he’d never get there, but he’d just beaten a player twenty years his junior – someone who mocked him as ‘Grandad’ every time they played.

The moment, obviously, was special. But it was still special the next day when he lost two games and didn’t make the quarter final. He was cross with himself, at first. Then he spotted someone on the other side of the arena and said with a smirk, ‘That’s my wife. She’s blind. I’ve got the eyes and she’s got the legs. And what legs, eh?’

At the time, I took this as a cheery lesson in making the best of a disappointing moment. A lesson in how a cheeky wit can carry you through. And that’s true, I guess. But what I missed was the long, imperfect process that got Egon here in the first place – the forty years of waking up and trying to be a bit better than the day before, even when it’s tough. Would you record each of those times as ‘special’? Probably not. But in the end, of course, they were the most meaningful of all.

Joe is the editor of the Friend.

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