Graceball

 

IMG_8900Cleaning off the shelves in my father’s study reminded me of the things he loves to read about — history and baseball. The older I’ve grown, the more I’ve loved reading about those things as well.

I’ve always loved reading about baseball. Not modern baseball, but the old days. Like the deadball days in The Glory of their Times by Lawrence Ritter, one of my favorite baseball books ever. Or the Brooklyn Dodgers. Or the Negro Leagues, both awful and beautiful.

So I grabbed a book on my dad’s bookshelf called The Teammates by David Halberstam. It’s a story about the enduring friendship between four ballplayers: Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, and Johnny Pesky.

Ted Williams was one of my father’s heroes. An unlikely hero, in my mind, because he was a hero with baggage. He was foul-mouthed and arrogant. Loud. He wasn’t gracious, wouldn’t tip his cap to the crowd, even in his last game, at his last at-bat, where he nailed his last home run.

John Updike, in Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, said about Ted Williams, “Gods do not answer letters.”

But Ted Williams could hit the ball.  Lou Boudreau came up with the Williams Shift for a reason. Why Ted Williams, in that instance, didn’t follow Wee Willy Keeler’s motto — “Hit ’em where they ain’t” — is a mystery to me.

The Teammates softened my thoughts on Ted Williams. It showed a more human side to him.  One Ted Williams story lingers with me.  In the words of Bobby Doerr  —

“… and when lunch was over Ted turned to us and said he wanted to take and show his dad’s photography shop.  And so we went across the street from the hotel, and there was a building there, all the offices empty now, nothing there but an empty building. Then he began talking about his father, who had not been successful, was out of work a lot, and had been drinking a lot. And as he talked you could just see it roll out, this little kid in this terrible world, all the unhappiness, all the things which had never gone away, and which had been stored up for so long. It was clear that his dad had never been there for him.  And then when we came out he took us to this nearby corner, and he said, ‘This is where my mother made me march with the Salvation Army, and I would try and hide behind the bass drum.’ As he talked I could see it all, the little boy back then, the shame, and the pain, and the broken home, and how much he hated all of it. As we were walking around, and he was letting us into his childhood, I was thinking to myself, ‘This is where it all started.’ I’ll never forget that day when he took us around because all you could feel was the sadness of it. The sadness of that little boy, and the sense that it had weighed on him so heavily for so long.”

As I read that story i understood better how baseball is a game of grace. The very best players fail two-thirds of the time when they get up to bat. A batter is allowed three strikes. A pitcher is allowed four balls. A team three outs.

Baseball is not like the pure athleticism of a race, where the first one to finish wins. It’s a game of trying and trying again. Perseverance. Moving on past a failure. And another failure. And another failure. Grace.

The whole game is grace. There’s always another pitch, another at-bat, another game, another season.

It’s why the battle cry of the Red Sox — “Wait till next year” — rings true.

Hope is a cornerstone in baseball. It exists at every single base.

*****

Today my daughter Mary follows in my footsteps (and her aunt’s) by starting a job at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

When combined with the Daily Prompt: “Childhood”, and the fact that this post turned up when I did a draft folder search of that word, you can understand why I’m posting this today.

Originally written last October. Never posted till now.

Wound

W is for Wound.

Flannery O’Connor said, “Grace must wound before it can heal.”

I scribbled those words in my notes during one Flannery O talk given by Dr. Ralph Wood at Laity Lodge.

If I can grasp that concept, I think I’ll be able to understand her writing more.

Jonathan Rogers looked at me during one session and said, “You don’t have to like Flannery O’Connor.”

I know. But I want to.

I really do.

I want to wrap my mind around this peacock-loving, slant-writing, perfect-word-choosing writer.

I want to be able to read one her stories where someone is gored by a bull or where a grandfather kills his granddaughter, I want to  read one of those stories that leaves me feeling like I’ve been sucker-punched, and be able to say, “Ah, I’ve been wounded so that I can experience the grace of this story.”

Flannery O’Connor  said, “All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.”

Yes, that’s it, Flannery. That’s me.

I see the hardness and hopelessness and brutality, and I miss the grace.

I said something to Jonathan about Judgement Day, the story that did me in on Flannery O. It’s the story of an old man from Georgia brought by his daughter to live with her in New York City. He wants to go home but dies in a horrible death in New York.

“I’m stuck with this image of a man with his head stuffed in the spokes of the railing. It’s an awful image,” I told him.

“Yes,” JR agreed, “but he got to go home.”

In the end the daughter brought her father’s body back to Georgia.

Was she the one wounded?

Was she the one who experienced grace?

See what I mean about not understanding Flannery?

And yet if grace were easy to understand, somehow it would seem cheaper.

So wound me, grace, so I can heal, and be more aware of the amazing power You hold.

Help me learn to extend that same grace, then, to others.

My Inner Porcupine

One of the most precious lessons I have learned (and am still learning) from my mother’s Alzheimer’s is not to take things personally.  I have such a tendency to do that!  When people say or do little things, and sometimes big things, that are mean or hurtful, I dwell on them.  With my mother, when she scolds or is angry, I just tell myself that it’s her illness talking.

The other day, I found myself doing it again — focusing on someone’s hurtful words and actions.  The thing is, other people may not have an Alzheimer’s problem, but they have a human problem.  We are all so painfully human.  Just as I excuse  my mother with her Alzheimer’s, I need to excuse others because they are just people.

Grace, grace, grace — so abundantly given to me, I should be able to share it.

There’s a porcupine within me
That bristles up at certain things
And I cannot quite control it
Or the turmoil that it brings.

When frightened, angry, hurt,
The little spears come into play,
And they prickle and they stab –
They make people move away.

Sometimes life is lonely,
With this porcupine inside.
Sometimes I don’t like me,
And I want to run and hide.

Why can’t I have a bunny
Hiding inside me?
With long soft ears and fluffy tail,
Huggable as can be.

Why can’t I have a puppy
Hiding there instead?
With wiggles, fun and energy –
A thing no one would dread.

But no, I have a porcupine
That I must learn to keep,
And the lessons that he teaches me
Are hard and sometimes deep.

But the lessons that I learn,
Painful though they be,
Help me to grow in grace, grace, grace –
And become a better me.