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ON BEING A SPORT
BY KATHARINE FULLERTON GEROULD
'BETWEEN the bridge and the river legitimate drama. Rummage sales for
‘ there is time for an act of perfect con- charity are about our size. So when we trition,' my pious French playmates take over an empty lot and officially used to tell me. I knew very little about place a carnival upon it, - as if we ‘acts' in the ecclesiastical sense, and were Paris or New Orleans or Honolulu, the phrase puzzled me; but it stuck. It — we grow a little excited, especially if stuck like that other formula we were there are children in the family, whose all brought up on, about remembering natural bedtime is eight o'clock (daythe whole of your past life as you rise light-saving). for the third time before definitely We set out: two parents, a son, and drowning. I cannot, of course, verify a godfather. Of course, it was only the the first, and verifications of the second vacant lot opposite the old athletic are chancy. But there is no doubt that field, but who knew what the Legion a deal of subconscious philosophy can might have done to it? Both the male be formulated in a few seconds, if the parent and the godfather belong to the seconds are sufficiently uncomfortable. Legion, but they had no idea. Son There is something about a brief sharp knew that there was a merry-go-round
a instant of fear, especially when there and a Ferris wheel. The grown gentleare no steps that can be taken, that men of the party were rather cynical: makes one know a lot of things. The they were going, 'to take the boy.' But shock pieces together your hitherto I have found that the greatest moral random inferences, and you behold, advantage of living in a small academic with apocalyptic suddenness, a mental town is to give one back some of the pattern. For example:
illusions of youth. You break your The other evening I attended a car- neck getting to see things that you nival. The phrase, I know, is absurd; would not turn your head for in New
, but in our village the only thing you York or (I suppose, since the new cencan do with a carnival is to attend it
sus, one must say) Detroit. precisely as if it were a Chautauqua. The most exciting moment of the We are not very riotous, and our vacant great war was not August, 1914, or lots are very small. 'Carnival' is rather April, 1917, or November, 1918. It was the name of our intention than of our about 10.30 P.M. of that hot Sunday achievement. The American Legion in July, 1918, when the Crown Prince, chose to call it a carnival, — having with all his staff and three hundred got used, in France, to a grand scale thousand German soldiers, had surrenof doing things, – and we rather liked
and we rather liked dered to the Allies. They had not surthe term ourselves. We are too small rendered in Europe, unfortunately, — for circuses, or band-concerts, or the only in Princeton, – but I assure you
neither fake nor real armistice could with buckets of gasoline for the decompare with it. So I confess that the frauded engine. The crowd grew: half music of the merry-go-round, unmistak- of Naples and two thirds of the black able wherever heard, and the illumined belt, with an aggressive sprinkling outline of the Ferris wheel (quite the from Jewry, surged waist-high about smallest and youngest of the Ferris the demobilized guardians of the gate. family) stirred the blood. They would But finally the lath-like mechanism was have been almost inaudible and invisi- pronounced in order, and boy and godble elsewhere; but they were a portent father climbed into the last empty car. in the Princeton twilight - even as the Westood and watched their revolutions, Handley-Pages or the Capronis that eyes fixed, it seemed, on the zenith, buzz gigantically over our garden, car- while Naples prodded and Lithuania rying the mail from capital to metro- kicked our ankles. Atlantic City would polis, give one no sensation comparable not have known there was a wheel with that evoked by the quick rise of a there; but to me it took on the matured 'Alivver' of an air-plane off the little shape of Adventure. My husband was fair-ground at Prattsville, New York - as gallant as on the verge of Molokai or hard by the jellies, the sweet-grass bas- Halemaumau; he did not prophesy, he kets, the crocheted bedspreads, and the did not warn, he did not frown. ‘All prize ox.
you want to’ — and as son and ‘Sweetheart, the dream is not yet godfather got off, we leaped into the ended,' as the ominous words run in the empty car. fairy-tale.
And this is what I was coming to, in We eschewed the merry-go-round for all these weary paragraphs: my bit of ourselves, but watched the boy sitting bridge-and-river, third-time-rising-andvery straight on his more than mortal sinking philosophy. We rose, we atsteed. A steed that goes up and down tained the height, we swung on in the vertically while he also goes round and downward loop - once and once only. round in a circle is not exactly mortal I do not know how many revolutions especially when he is a lion or a zebra they give you for your money; but I
а. or a rooster. We tried our luck at the knew that one was all I could bear. I gambling booths you can hardly call said, 'Do you think they would stop them anything else, those wheels and and let us off?' – and left the rest to G. bagatelle-boards and rifle-galleries. To I knew that he would get me off if possiothers the sofa pillows and red-glass ble, and that he would not say, 'I told vases, the boxes of candy and the wick- you so.' These are good things to be er tea-sets: our skill brought us noth- able to count on. After one unnatural ing but chewing-gum. You cannot take glimpse of the dim New Jersey plain chewing-gum away from a child who beneath us, I had shut my eyes - I has won it himself; so in the interest of who like heights. I was not sick, I was public morals we followed the crowd. not giddy, I was physically quite com
There the serried bunches of children fortable; but I found myself hesitant warred with members of the Legion as to intrude
the stars at their own to who should be let through the gate front doors. I like to lie on a rock ten next. When they sneaked in at the side, thousand feet in air and feel that, if I the Legion shoved them back, in impec- blew hard, I could blow a planet clean cable good-humor, but with military out of place, or disarrange Orion's belt. finality. The wheel sprang a leak, and I am always hoping to double the ten youths ran back and forth saggingly, thousand; then, for one instant, I shall
have the illusion of a supreme decision:
II whether or not to lift my hand and grope for the lost Pleiad. It is not the Ah, my dear defensive Interlocutor, nearness of the stars I mind; simply, I Spirit of the Wheel, or what not, like a back to my chair when I greet you touch one of the most pathetic and them. I would rather pull them down vital facts of human nature. To each of than have them pull me up. I wanted us it is natural to crave danger, since to get off the Ferris wheel - and did. a dash of danger is necessary to make,
What I had possessed for fifteen out of an act, an adventure. To prepare cents was one priceless moment of fear. yourself for that danger, in the right It is not often, in one's padded life, that way, to meet it when prepared, in the one is stark afraid, primitively, for one's right spirit, is to be a good sport. To be own skin. Under the revealing shock a good sport, it is not quite enough to of it, I did a lot of emotional algebra, face the danger bravely when it comes: finding with astonishing speed what x you must, to some extent, welcome it. equals. The equation slid through its Yet, to welcome danger, to go to look paces to the solution. In the mere in- for it — is not that being merely rash, stant of eye-closing I compared myself, or foolhardy? on my modest wheel, with those who There are distinctions, my child (so brave the ether. Yes: but they are fas spoke the Interlocutor). It is all a mattened in; if I were fastened in, I should ter of the quid pro quo. Nothing for not mind; in fact, what I mind most is nothing, in this world. The danger pays this fearful detachment from anything for something else — knowledge, or a like solidity. Think how many people new sensation. Is the knowledge worth go round on far bigger wheels than this. it? Is the new sensation worth it? You Yes, but the heart knoweth its own must decide. wheel. Besides, the bones of the baby But that is not being a sport, I are flimsier than those of the grown-up. protested. A sport takes his chances.
. This thing is made of string and papier- Exactly, replied the Spirit of the mâché, and even at Coney Island they Wheel. And a good sport must also be have horrid accidents. All these con- a good appraiser of quid pro quo. Ninetraptions are unsafe. We know it when ty times out of a hundred he must make
a we are on the ground, and are very wise a good guess at whether or not the adover the accidents, in headlines, once a venture is going to be worth the risk. season. But see the children swarming; Otherwise men write him down, if overand did n't your own boy actually hesitant, a coward; if over-willing, a rash squirm about to look behind him, in idiot. mid-air? Ah, children are fearless Is it worth my while, I asked, to open through ignorance. But grown-ups like my eyes, to be afraid for several revoluit, too: remember that at all pleasure- tions more, to repeat the horrid sensaresorts you find the most uncomfortable tion I have just been having at the very and dangerous devices the most popu- top of our career is it worth while? lar. They like to walk through rolling Am I failing to be a sport if I ask, in a barrels, they like to shiver along the few seconds more, to be allowed to get heights of the roller-coaster, they like to off? This has become a purely moral stand on the slippery whirling cone and. matter, good Wheel. be flung off irresistibly into a padded Of course it is a moral matter, the precinct. They like looping the loops, Spirit of the Wheel replied. Show me and bumping the bumps. They like it. anything that is n't. It is even a moral matter that wheels of my sort are so In mid-flight, I had come near to flimsy. Those who make them count solving my own problem: x is what heavily, and not in vain, on the des
you get in payment for the discomfort perate desire, in drab lives, for adven- you endure, the risk you run, the fear ture. Drab lives must take adventure you feel. You must always determine where they can find it. A new sensation X. Algebra is the most human of abfor a dime and any man is lifted from stract sciences, since life is perpetually the crowd, is gloriously individual, put to you in the form of a quadratic while he is experiencing a new sensation. equation. The adventurer must be, He stands on a peak in Darien. If there above all, a half-way decent mathemais danger added, he is not only a dis- tician. He cannot afford to make miscoverer, but, for his instant, a hero. takes as to the value of x. The whole Perhaps the folk who make these things point, I had said to myself, - or the so badly as to increase the danger are Spirit of the Wheel had said to me, really benefactors - are really acting is whether it is worth it. I shall hate morally; since, if you incur no risk at all, going round and round, faster and fastyou have no chance of being a sport. I er; I shall be afraid, and 'fear is more should be interested to know what you pain than is the pain it fcars.' What think. Nothing is so comforting to the shall I get out of it that will prepondersoul as the memory of past perils well ate over that terror? Indeed, will not met and lived through. Does a man my fear inhibit any æsthetic sense that ever get over narrating a hair 's-breadth might operate? The part of straight escape? You talk about being tied in. common sense is to end this adventure But if you were tied in, you would not here and now. On this I acted. But not be afraid. Where would be the glory? without knowledge that some temperaIt is time, by the way, if you want to ments would have seen it through none get off, to say so. Your car will
pres- the less, equation or no equation. Were ently be at the bottom. Then we are those the real sports, and I no sport at really off. We shall go faster next time. all? Perhaps. And yet — there was
I had only one instant left, under the nothing at stake: neither pleasure, nor empire of this my fear, to decide. As knowledge, nor reputation. I should I have said before, I decided to alight. hate it; it would teach me nothing; no But I knew that I was deciding much one had dared or challenged me to the more than that, and that I had been act. Common sense certainly told me to very near the wavering line which di- do as I did, as much as to come in out vides good sports from bad. 'Only let of the rain if I had no umbrella and no me get off this thing,' I said to myself, business out of doors. ‘and I promise to be a normal creature But is there not something beyond again, able to smile and split hairs with common sense, very necessary to the jest. Give me ground under my feet, world? something that is indifferent to and I reënter my personality. Since it the value of x, and says, 'I don't care is not necessary that I should be again to solve it beforehand, thank you'? thus hideously lifted up, I cannot bear Common sense has a deal of caution in it. If it were inevitable but that is it; and do we not, somewhere in the a whole other problem, and I refuse world, need rashness? If your advento consider it.' So I got off, careless of tures are to be many, or successful, you comparisons between myself and the must bring your algebra into play. We desirous ones who rushed to fill our still pity the person who did not at first places.
glimpse see, from the mere look of the
problem on the page, that x was going cles, and either he is well-enough trainto be a negligible amount. Yet what ed to overcome difficulties or he is not. should we do without the people who But there is little room in that barrel disdain algebra — who try the strange
for skill. new thing for the mere sake of trying it, Most of us, I think, do not admire a little careless of what it is going to him, though many of us would run to bring them? What should we do with- see. We cannot believe that x equals out the people who love danger for it- enough to justify him. For instinctively self — not as seasoning, but for the we do all on such an occasion rush to whole dish? Generally speaking, those our algebra and roughly solve the equapeople are used up early; and we are tion. But 'the dream is not yet ended'; rather apt to deem them fools. I am and here is the rub. not sure that the sum of them is not True it is, as the Spirit of the Wheel folly; that they are not, so to speak, all remarked, that one must do each time salt. A pity to be all salt; yet how could that little sum. But no man can quite we get on without salt itself?
solve it for another. Half the time x is To be a good sport, I think the an imponderable, a gain which none Spirit of the Wheel was right, - one can estimate or realize but the gainer. needs to calculate, and pay cheerfully, “We were dreamers, dreaming greatto the last exhausted nerve, if x looks ly in the man-stifled town.' X is the good. I still do not feel sure that I was dream. a bad sport, since there was nothing at In the faith of little children we stake. I sampled a thing which was to lay down and died.' But still x is the bring me at best nothing but pleasure. dream. For the chance of wealth, for There was no pleasure in it 2 was the chance of beauty, for the chance of obviously zero — and I threw it away
and I threw it away fame, or the chance of power, a man early.
will risk his comfort and his life; and if My own conduct does not matter, the chance is clear enough, other men, except to me. I knew that in mid-air. even if they do not emulate him, will What struck me, even as I trembled understand. It is when there is nothing aloft, was that this is a vital question for success to bring him that they turn to us all. For deciding this question, away. We have come to believe so enthe instinct of the race is the best test, I tirely that no man throws away his life fancy. When does the mass feel a quick except in the hope of possessing some
a sympathy, and when does it shrug its thing he values more, that we have, I shoulders? I leave out all rash acts of think, little natural sympathy for the an altruistic nature; for when a thing man who throws his life away for the is done for another's sake, no matter mere sake of throwing it away. Half how mad the act, x looms large. Do the time, in such a case, the man sees we, or do we not, admire, instinctively, something that no one else sees: the the Human Fly? Have we, that is, a value of x is his secret. But sometimes, moral sympathy with him? Skill, again, surely, the sole act is its sole end. And is another matter: it is not the man who there we stop. We never think of callcrosses Niagara on a tight rope that is ing that man a ‘sport.' We call him a the test case; it is the man who shoots fool. Yet the man in the street would Niagara in a barrel. Skill, however em- not like to live his life through without ployed, arouses an admiration purely the spectacle of that folly. intellectual. Thus or thus a man has Life has, for the good of the race, trained his eyes or his toes or his mus- become, in public opinion, a precious