Coming close is not a tragedy
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I’m going through life without ever having hit a home run. To hit a ball perfectly and round the bases, touching home: That must be a pleasure.
Once I came close. Just turning 26 and finishing my dissertation, I played on the American Culture team in the University of Michigan graduate school coed softball league, one of the weakest leagues imaginable. Susan had finished her undergraduate career there and was technically ineligible, but we were short of women who didn’t—to use a phrase from those sexist days—throw like girls.
Here’s the scene, one week before our June 1976 wedding. Susan leads off and hits a hard ground ball to the left side. A few steps down the first baseline she pulls a muscle. The Philosophy Department shortstop fields the ball cleanly but starts thinking about Kant and Hegel. He decides to scrutinize the ball to see if it is objectively knowable or just an artifice of our human sensibility.
At this point everything seems to be going in slow motion—no, everything is going in slow motion. Susan, game as always, heads toward first base, pulling her sprained limb. The shortstop continues to philosophize. Susan makes slow, struggling progress. The shortstop finally decides the ball is worth throwing, but he’s a second late. Susan, amazingly safe at first, limps off as a pinch runner takes her place.
Filled with passion while contemplating Susan’s suffering, I—astoundingly—hit the ball on a line over the center fielder’s head.
Unable to comfort her immediately because I was next up at bat, I decided to swing at the first pitch if it was reachable and get off the field. The pitch was right over the plate and, filled with passion while contemplating Susan’s suffering, I—astoundingly—hit the ball on a line over the center fielder’s head. Upping my base-running speed from slowest to slow, I rounded third as the now-energized shortstop was ready to throw home the ball he had just received from the center fielder.
Then came my sad, several-step retreat to third base. Yes, a good throw would have nabbed me at the plate, but how likely was a good throw? A pinch runner came in for me so I could leave the field and take Susan home. At the moment her pain was more important than my missed opportunity. Later, contemplating my unnecessary stop, I figured many other opportunities to hit a home run would come.
They never did. I played on the Baptist team in a San Diego softball league where the big game at the end of the season was against the local brewery, but we used a softball twice the normal size that could not be hit very far. Over the years children and career came before softball. Never again was it convenient to play against players as weak as myself.
In the slightly nutty but evocative baseball movie Field of Dreams, protagonist Ray Kinsella tells an old doctor—when young, he was a good ballplayer who made it to the majors once, at the end of a season, but never got to bat—“Fifty years ago, for five minutes you came within … you came this close. It would KILL some men to get so close to their dream and not touch it. They’d consider it a tragedy.” Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham replies, “Son, if I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes … now that would have been a tragedy.”
Had I missed, or later messed up, my marriage, that would have been a tragedy. Had Joel Belz not asked me 24 years ago to become involved in editing WORLD, that would have been a tragedy. I have minor regrets about things missed and opportunities passed up. You probably do too, but the most important keys to happiness are a good marriage and a good calling, both gifts from God.
My favorite Psalm these days is 73, the perfect poem for a Christian journalist because it concludes, “I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” It describes our covetous tendencies: “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” It describes God’s kindness in giving us a present and a future: “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.” And it gives us no other reasonable option: “Whom have I in heaven but you?”
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