Broken Record, T.S. Eliot, and Me…

by Hap Rocketto

Three weeks before my 18th birthday, in January of 1965, the poet Thomas Sterns Eliot died. Oddly enough his wife Vivian died in January of 1947 within a few days of my birthday. Regardless of these curious coincidences I was not particularly a fan of the author of ‘The Waste Land’ and ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.’ I found his work somewhat depressing. Anyway his stuff didn’t rhyme making it particularly hard to read for someone whose appreciation of poetry started and ended with verse the likes of:

“The coarse, boorish lout from Connecticut
Was hopeless in hygiene and etiquette…”

However, my English teacher, Mr. Tyropolis, did not particularly give a fig about my personal literary tastes and spent a day or two discussing the late Nobel Laureate’s works. It was not until I became a teacher that I became aware that Mr. Tyropolis, great teacher that he was, had taken advantage of the event and made it a teaching moment. Lumpkin that I was I didn’t appreciate his efforts at the time. I am sure it was Divine Retribution. I am equally sure that Mr. Tyropolis, who had gone onto his reward, was standing at the Deity’s right hand and egging him on with ill concealed glee, to insure that my students responded with equal ennui when I did the same thing with my classes .

One of Eliot’s poems that was duplicated for our edification was entitled “Ash Wednesday.” It has to do with Lenten preparation and is a reflection of Eliot’s religious education as a convert to Catholicism. Towards the end of the six verses, still tortuous reading for me, appeared the following couplet:

“Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still”

Little did I realize at the time that Eliot, through Mr. Tyropolis, was giving me some great coaching advice in my chosen sport of smallbore rifle shooting. It would not become apparent to me until a Sunday at the end of February, 43 years later.

The first line is insight into a key to successful shooting. A shooter has to care about the success of each shot. In the beginning the Integrated Act of Shooting is slowly developed from a distinct series of carefully carried out acts and actions. The original step by step approach eventually becomes a smoothly flowing stream of shooting consciousness. The Integrated Act becomes less a thought out logical process and more a conditioned reflex. The first part is being taught ‘to care’ and the second is being taught ‘not to care.’ When the reflex stage has been reached the shooter can then concentrate on external conditions that affect the shot such as wind and light.

The second line is a second key to shooting success. Shooting is the only sport that I know of that is static. Every other sport requires you to move, shooting places a premium on not moving.

On a Sunday morning in February of 2008 I found myself, as I so often do, hunched over in a rifle range. I was shooting a sectional of the National Four Position Indoor Smallbore Rifle Championship and after pretty good prone and an adequate standing I was trying to clean sitting for no other reason than I simply could not afford to drop any more points. I really cared about shooting a clean and had to will myself not to care about the score but rather to let myself to allow my training to take over. Shot after shot I mechanically punched holes in the ten ring and by the time I was done I had a 200X200 with 19 center shots.

Nicole Panko, the Match Director, then indelicately, but factually, pointed out that I was well in excess of sixty and, as a senior; I had tied the National Record for that category. “Would you like to continue to fire?” she asked in her best imitation of Don Vito Corleone’s, “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse”.

I hung two fresh targets, loaded my block, and folded myself into my best sitting position. At the command to “Commence Fire” I was off. After a few sighters I went for record and started off where I finished off and shot nice solid tens. I completed one card and was three shots in to the next when I began to care and I shot a nine at one.

However my streak was still alive because I had shot my first three shots in the left hand column, bulls one, four, and six. Shots for continuation of fire are scored by the numbered bull. All I had to do was shoot three more tens, one each in bulls two, three, and five, and I would have a score of 200X200 with 15 10s. I set up for bull two and really wanting that ten and, again, forgot not to care. My record attempt was over. I tossed the second target away, giving up the 11th center shot, because I think that ten has nicer ring to it than 11.

I had a solid record score and was pleased with myself and just a little puffed up, too. When my team mates dropped me off at home they mentioned my accomplishment sitting to my wife, who had spent the day at home catching up on cleaning the bathrooms, dusting the tchotchkies, and cooking.

“That comes as no surprise to me.” replied Margaret. But before I could get a swelled head she brought me quickly back to earth before my admiring retinue by irreverently telling them, and chiding me, that, “Around this house the only thing he does well, or for any length of time for that matter, is sit.”

About Hap Rocketto

Hap Rocketto is a Distinguished Rifleman with service and smallbore rifle, member of The Presidents Hundred, and the National Guard’s Chief’s 50. He is a National Smallbore Record holder, a member of the 1600 Club and the Connecticut Shooters’ Hall Of Fame. He was the 2002 Intermediate Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion, the 2012 Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion a member of the 2007 and 2012 National Four Position Indoor Championship team, coach and captain of the US Drew Cup Team, and adjutant of the United States 2009 Roberts and 2013 Pershing Teams. Rocketto is very active in coaching juniors. He is, along with his brother Steve, a cofounder of the Corporal Digby Hand Schützenverein. A historian of the shooting sports, his work appears in Shooting Sports USA, the late Precision Shooting Magazine, The Outdoor Message, the American Rifleman, the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s website, and most recently, the apogee of his literary career,
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