Mar 31, 2006

The Confessions of a Reluctant Team Player

Some people are by nature team players and others are not. I belong to the second group. I lack the skills of a born leader, and I make a somewhat shifty follower. My grade school experiences with teamwork added to my inborn aversion. I was always among the last chosen for games of dodge ball. And when the class worked on group projects, I ended up either doing most of the work or having to accept a lower grade than I would have made on my own. “I’ll do it myself!” became my watchword.

I'm self-employed and prefer to work alone. I swim laps for exercise rather than joining a water aerobics class or a sports team, because I prefer to set my own pace and goals.

About seven years ago, however, I began to lose my eyesight to glaucoma. Now legally blind, I can neither read nor drive. As you might imagine, my disability has forced me to rely on others a good bit more than I ever had before. Almost everything in my life now requires teamwork. And for the first time, I’m finding a new kind of joy in it.

My first experience with teamwork was as its grateful beneficiary. I belong to a writers’ group that meets, characteristically, once a year. When we do meet, it’s like herding cats. Though we see one another so seldom, these friends and colleagues banded together and bought the computer on which I’m now writing this. It even contains an expensive program that reads the screen to me.

A friend, ordinarily not an early riser, gets up before the sun three times a week to take me to the health club so I can swim laps. Another friend helps by reading my mail to me. For my part, I keep both of these friends stocked with freshly baked bread.

Closer to home, my daughter drives me to the grocery store every week and reads labels for me. We wander the aisles, comparing prices, and sharing nutritional information. She has high blood pressure and looks for low sodium rates; I want low-fat yogurt and sugar-free snacks.

We always take our cell phones with us on these excursions. I often wander off into the fresh fruits and vegetables so I can feel what I’m buying. If we have trouble locating one another, we can ring up the other one and reconnect.

At the checkout line, my daughter swipes my debit card and punches in the right numbers. Before I lost my sight, I preferred to shop alone. But now this excursion provides one of the highlights of my week.

I took my first baby step toward teamwork when I learned to ask for help. Before, I hadn’t wanted to feel obligated to others, but I realized that every act of kindness comes from God. Ordinary teamwork can become a kind of worship community. Receiving help from others opened my heart to this gratitude. Once I learned to accept help, I was more eager to give it. Teamwork, I found, is not built on obligation, but on gratitude.

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