It was perfect.
Don was taking prayer requests before the pastoral prayer in our ten o’clock service. One of the men in the congregation, a retired surgeon who is full of both gentleness and whimsy, raised his hand. Don called on him and he stood up, his hymnal open.
“I wanted to make note of the hymn we sand this morning and these words,” he then read with great intentionality and drama:
He sat down to both laughter and applause. Here in Red Sox Nation, the first day of baseball season is a day we notice, even if our beloved team has yet to take the field. The Sox web site asks how people think the Old Town Team will do this year. Forty-three percent say we going to win the World Series. Only eleven percent thinks we are going to do poorly. Our hopes are high; we’re ready, once more, to have our heart broken. We’ll watch every game as if it were the playoffs, talk about it every chance we get, and never stop believing until we are mathematically eliminated. And we love to write about it, too.
Tonight, as I was driving to youth group, I heard an interview on NPR with Tom Goldstein, editor and publisher of Elysian Fields Quarterly, a baseball literary journal. He read “Baseball Enlightenment,” a poem by John Poff, a former major league ball player. Goldstein also talked about his father lamenting the loss of beginnings and endings and the way in which one sport season bleeds into the next. John Ydstie, the host, agreed, pointing out that Opening Day was sandwiched between the two days of the Men’s Final Four, which eclipsed baseball’s beginning. No one noticed like they used to do.
He also asked Goldstein why baseball was the one sport with a significant literary legacy. The editor pointed to the pace of the game. Any other sport requires you pay attention all the time, he said; there’s no room for conversation. If you turn your head and the batter hits the ball, you can turn back to follow the arc of the fly and watch the fielder run to catch it. You get to watch the strategy unfold, watch the plays develop, even watch the manager go out to the mound and the team converse with each other. It’s also the one sport, he noted, where you, as a spectator, have time to notice your surroundings, notice who’s around you – the one sport where you have time to think and reflect. When there is time for conversation and reflection, there is time to write.
I’ve lost track of beginnings and endings in my life right now. One week bleeds into the next without much sense of what is starting and what is stopping. Monday is the beginning of the week for most folks and it is my down day, at least until it’s time for Bible study. Tuesday is a catchall; Wednesday I’m in the kitchen. Thursday I have a chance to catch my breath before the Friday to Sunday marathon. It is a hamster wheel more than a trajectory with any direction; I could begin the description on Wednesday as easily as Monday and come out with the same sense of timing. In the midst of this season, I have fought to find time for conversation and reflection, because I have been determined to write. Life is moving quickly; I want to remember who I am and what is happening. I also want to be able to notice moments like this one:
How Baseball Becomes the Beginning of Longing
By Kelly Terwilliger
The hum of the crowd
is a warm pool, and you wade in happily,
the green field below as smooth as a freshly made bed,
and the sky fading peach into the cooling
air, the lights so bright, so white they trick the eyes
into seeing the whole world sepia, like an old movie
steeped in the color of nostalgia, the smells
of hot dogs and popcorn clinging to the very air
and somewhere inside, you can still hear the smack of the ball
you can feel the arc it makes over the stands and the boy next to you
so wanting to catch it he brought his tiny red mitt to the game
just in case, and he tells you again and again how it would be:
the ball, so hard, so fast it could hit him in the eye and blind him,
would come sailing right between the two of you, and he—he would snatch it
from the air as fast as anything, and it would be his! And how bare
and pointless the evening turns when he knows it is too late,
no ball will come his way tonight and you will go home
and he will be empty-handed and this was in fact
the worst baseball game ever and now he isn’t even sure why
he wasted his time coming, and you climb
that hill with him, his head down, his sandals flapping and the air
clear and darkening all around you, carrying the moon on its breath
like a not-quite-ripe baseball, just out of reach.
The numbers at the bottom of the page on my Word document tell me my Lenten Journal is now over 35,000 words. In a little over a month I have written a small book, I guess, and, when I sit down to write everyday, I feel like the kid with the red baseball mitt waiting for the homerun ball to hit his glove and going home, after every game, with nothing more than the moon and the hope of next time. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I know both the hope and heartbreak of next time very well and I must say familiarity doesn’t make it any easier. If the option, however, is to not take your glove and go sit in the bleachers, I’ll keep choosing to head to the ballpark.