all apologies

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Last summer, Ginger and I got to go to Dyersville, Iowa and visit the farm where Field of Dreams was filmed. The baseball diamond is still there, between the house and the cornfield. We were two of only a handful of people walking around, so we played catch, me on the pitcher’s mound and she at home plate, for about fifteen magical minutes. We didn’t take pictures of it, we just threw the ball back and forth, laughing and talking and imaging ourselves among the players that found redemption on that field thanks to Ray Kinsella.

As we played, and then as we drove away, I thought about Terrence Mann’s words as he encouraged Ray not to sell the farm and destroy the diamond:

People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh, people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

These days, it seems, we are in the process of erasing America in ways that feel unprecedented to me. Actually, erase is not a strong enough word, because replacing words on a blackboard is a reasonably easy proposition. The emotional and spiritual damage of our time feels more like the erasure of American helicopters spewing napalm across the Vietnamese landscape or firebombing Dresden–an erasure that leaves little more than ashes and grief–and we haven’t even begun to talk about the incessant repetition of the twenty-four-hour news cycle and the relentless ranting on social media that is as claustrophobic as it is caustic and cynical.

This week started off well. Monday was my mother-in-law Rachel’s birthday. Monday was also Truck Day, which is the day the trucks leave Fenway Park to haul all the gear the Red Sox will need for Spring Training. Monday was also the day that it became apparent that Mitch McConnell had made sure the Senate would not call witnesses in the impeachment trial and the Republicans would vote in lock step. Tuesday was the State of the Union address, which I intentionally avoided, though I could not avoid the chatter that followed. Wednesday the Senate voted to acquit Trump, which means he will be even more sure he can do anything he wants. As I read the news (I have long since quit watching or listening) and made the mistake of reading a few Facebook threads, I struggled to name my feelings. I was grateful for manuscripts to edit that pulled my focus to better things. But even with them, by late afternoon, my mind was tired, my heart was heavy, and I needed to walk. I met Ginger and we wandered through neighborhoods for about an hour and talked, which has always been a good way to find myself.

I told her I wasn’t depressed. As long as we both have lived with my depression, we know that when it dominates my life, I am incapacitated. I said I felt despondent, even despairing, but not hopeless. I was angry, and I knew if I didn’t figure out where to aim it, it was going come out sideways. I told her I wished I could stand on the Green and scream swear words at the top of my lungs, but I knew that would frighten dogs and children and probably wouldn’t do much for her as the pastor of the Church on the Green; it probably wouldn’t do much for me either. I had considered getting off of Facebook, because what Facebook aims at me is part of the problem, but that would mean losing a lot of important connections. As we walked and talked, I came to some decisions: I would cancel my news subscriptions, delete those apps from my phone, and only go on Facebook to post poetry or blog posts and to check in with specific people.

Rachel had a friend visiting for her birthday, so we all went to dinner and then, when we got home, I built a fire. We were sitting in the living room having a lovely conversation, when I noticed Rachel was scrolling through her phone. (Remember the part where I said things come out sideways?)

“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said.
“Then put your phone down and talk to your friend.”

In my mind, I was playing with her. Ginger told me later that it didn’t come across that way. Just typing the first few sentences of our encounter (oh, yes–I didn’t let up; there was more) makes it apparent to me–again–that my tone was less than jovial. Ginger stopped me before I did too much damage and I left the room, not yet understanding what was going on inside myself, but realizing I needed a time out, as it were. I ended up at my computer, writing my post about stepping away from Facebook.

“Tonight,” I wrote, “I feel like something broke inside me.” Then I went to bed.

This morning I had a clearer picture of the damage I had done, first, because Ginger had written a compassionately confrontative text before she went to bed and, second, because my insight had had time to catch up to my emotions. I couldn’t yell on the Green, so I exploded in the living room. Since everyone was still asleep, I wrote texts to Rachel and Ginger to apologize before I left the house for work. As I walked across the Green in the morning mist, I realized what had pushed me over the edge: the other thing that happened Wednesday was the Red Sox traded Mookie Betts to the Dodgers.

Mookie Freakin’ Betts. The best player in a Red Sox uniform that I have seen in person. The one I hoped would stay in Boston his whole career and break all the records. The one whose name is on the back of my Red Sox t-shirt. How could baseball remind me of all that once was good and that could be good again if they traded Mookie Betts? I was throwing bean balls at Rachel because the Sox traded Mookie.

The root of the word apology is apologos–story, account. To apologize is to retell the story of the damage we have done and then, perhaps, to rewrite the ending. I wanted to tell a different story about how I express my anger than I took it out on Rachel and her phone.

The word apology is used theologically, in its oldest form, to mean a justification or a defense, which leans into an overarching judicial metaphor for life, which is not a helpful one, for the most part. Justification also means setting things right. When lines on a page are justified, in printer lingo, they are ordered in relation to one another. The prophet Micah said we are called to love justice, do kindness, and walk humbly with God. To apologize, then, is to set myself right with those around me in kindness and humility to keep the story going instead of digging in and going nowhere.

I’m glad I wrote that last sentence down. I’m sure I will need to come back to it.

Mookie is gone. I sincerely wonder if our country will survive the erasure that is currently underway and, I think, far from over. And, when I opened Facebook this morning to post my poem for the day, I was greeted by a hundred comments on my words from last night. I opened my phone to find texts from friends near and far. As I was sitting down with my coffee, I got a call from someone seven states away and twenty years ago who wanted me to know I was not alone. Then I talked with my friend Peter, whom I meet every Thursday for coffee and friendship.

All is not lost. A lot is lost, but not all. I am not alone. And I am called to apologize–which is to say to set myself right with those around me in kindness and humility. For me, that means creating space enough for me to not be so crowded by the cynicism. Room–like a baseball diamond–where a game of catch is a treasure and the point is for everyone to get home.

Peace,
Milton

PS–Since I used the title, I have to let you hear the song: all in all is all we are . . .

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Very powerful, Milton. Thank you. Putting words on paper is an antidote to erasure. It is an act of presence and humility and honesty. So glad to read yours.

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  2. We all miss the ball, sometimes. That’s why we have to back each other up, always.

    I’m not literally coaching these days, but those lessons are still true and need reinforcing.

    You’re loved & not alone, brother man! Thanks for this.

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  3. Milton, I am sorry you’re despondent, but I’m so glad that you are finding your healthy boundaries. These are insane times. And I — also despondent, and angry! — desperately needed your words today, especially about apology and being lined up and in right relationship and not digging in…I am as guilty of digging in these days as the ones doing the erasing. Thank you, as always, my wise and wonderful friend. I love you.

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