Imagine that you are the greatest champion that your sport had ever, or probably ever will produce. Further, imagine that you have to work full-time as a fireman to support yourself and that sometimes you show up at tournaments straight from work, wearing your heavy uniform, soot still on your face. Some might rail at the injustice that life brings: “I should be playing another sport; I should stop playing for peanuts; it is not fair that I need a day job as a fireman to support my family; at least on the day I have a tournament, I should have the day off.” Vic Hershkowitz did no such complaining.
Vic Hershkowitz won 23 amateur national titles in handball. He died this week at the age of 89. Hershkowitz’s greatest handball strengths came from his ability to use either hand with equal power and dexterity, and from his ability to change the pace of his shots. His athletic abilities were compared to those of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Growing up in Brooklyn during the Depression, Hershkowitz couldn’t afford to play any other sport. His sole handball earnings came from $50 a stop, barnstorming clinics during the 1950s when handball was at its peak of popularity. One of his handball rivals, Phil Collins said of Vic: “He was a hall-of-fame human being; a lot of good players didn’t want to teach anybody else or help them with their game. He always did.”
Vic Hershkowitz’s life teaches us much. We live in a society where we are constantly bombarded by judgments of what is unfair. These complaints are endless. Some may complain: “It is unfair that the CEO earns so much, and the teacher earns so little.” While others may judge: “It is unfair that the coal miner earns so little, while the baseball player earns so much.”
We are further told that in a just society something should be done about these types of injustices. But wait, who set the low pay rate for Vic Hershkowitz and the much higher pay rate for Mickey Mantle? Of course, it was simply the tastes of the consuming public. That the pay rate for Vic Hershkowitz bore no relationship to his immense athletic abilities is a sign of a free and vibrant society; it was not the sign of injustice.
My last sentence needs further consideration. Assume for a moment that Hershkowitz and Mantle had equal abilities. To assure the same material outcome, government would have had to treat Hershkowitz and Mantle very differently; Hershkowitz would have had to have been compensated for the fact that there were far fewer fans who cared about handball than fans who cared about baseball.
Of course, using that logic, there is no end to the compensations and interferences that one could demand of government. We would quickly find that government , rather than being the impartial arbiter it is supposed to be, would be treating different people differently in order to correct for something for which no one is to blame. In doing so, government would need to institute all types of coercive controls; and in the process, those government controls would cripple the economy.
There is another equally important lesson to learn from Hershkowitz’s life. By all accounts, Hershkowitz lived a more fulfilling and happier life than did Mickey Mantle. Of course, we will never know what either he or Mantle felt inside; but research on happiness shows that the happiness that you experience bears little relationship to how much money and fame you have. Mantle’s greater riches and fame did not buy him peace of mind. Happiness is truly an inside job.
We are all born into certain circumstances—a unique time, place, and culture. We are all given gifts of potential talents. Our happiness depends on developing our gifts; because as we do, we are allowing the source of those gifts to flow through us. That source of Love and Intelligence lives in each of us, but only to extent that we do not choke it off.
Under different circumstances, Vic Hershkowitz may have been a baseball player. For all we know, that thought never even crossed his mind. I have little doubt he felt fortunate to play handball. He did what his circumstances and his gifts allowed him to do, and he did it full of love for the game that was his calling. In that way, he was a model champion for us all.
We are all better at demanding things from life than we are at listening to what life asks of us. Life asks much of all of us. It asks that we use our gifts; it asks that, over and over again, we extend love and forgiveness; it asks that we stop railing against what is wrong and stop demanding that life conform to our demands. When we do, love, peace, and happiness flow through us. The choice is only the next moment away.