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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Its a hard knock life

I love baseball, always have, always will. Having a catch (whoops, curse you Field of Dreams), I mean playing catch with my Da, brothers, and my friends are fond childhood memories. Hell, we still play catch off and on, only now we’ve included sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, and a tomboy wife or two.

I remember sandlot games between neighborhood pick-up teams. I remember choosing sides by tossing a bat into the air, catching it before it hit the ground, and the opposing captains racing fist over fist to the end to determine who chose first. Of course then there was the elation of being chose first, the agony of being chose last, and the relief of being anywhere in between! Good times…

I always go back to those times whenever I’m stressed, angry, scared or confused. Baseball’s slow familiar pace comforts me. And I find peace in knowing that it rarely if ever changes. Peace and comfort, yeppers, that’s what I get from my sandlot memories of days gone by. I can’t count how many times I’ve gone there to ease the pain or pressures that life brings intermittently to us all. They say that life ebbs and flows, that it oscillates if you will, and it’s true enough. So what?

So, here I am again at my sandlot altar, calling upon these memories like old friends to help me cope with another of life’s curveballs (there is a baseball metaphor for EVERYTHING). In my last post I wrote a poem for a child, not my own, but one whom I’ve grown to love as my own. I wrote about the challenge that life has fated her with. It is perhaps life’s greatest challenge, survival. It is a big challenge for such a little girl and in the face of seemingly untenable and definitely unfair odds. Only by the grace of God have you and I avoided a similar fate.

When I was told of her illness of her challenge, I was shocked, scared, and then angry. It’s not hard to understand the compulsion toward anger and bitterness. But these are shallow reactions of one who insists on understanding the reasons for God’s will (for those of a faith) or the natural order of things (for those who are not). Admittedly I am one of the former, and succumbed to those base emotions, instantly demanding to know WHY! And I brought that bad attitude with me to hospital that first night, not sure if it would explode in a grief inspired tirade or remain dormant inside me, simmering into bitterness.

Imagine my surprise when in a nanosecond all of that was washed away as I sat by her bedside and looked at her face. It was the face of an angel. She lay there quietly breathing, doing her part to recover from surgery, mankind’s first pass at miracle working. Surrounded by doctors, nurses, social workers, machines, family, friends, and well wishers, she seemed to me to be the only person at peace in the room. Oblivious to the chaos around her she lay in quiet repose, beyond REM, in a place where only those on the brink are allowed to visit.

In that short period of time my attitude changed. It was as if someone had erased a blackboard. And, over the next few hours calmness washed over me and I felt my hard heart soften, the anger and bitterness turning to peaceful acceptance. I imagined that I heard voices and I wondered if someone were speaking to her. I strained to listen but the voices were faint and low. Whatever was being said was meant for her ears alone. I imagined that they were tender words, words of encouragement perhaps, but from where from who? Perhaps from loved ones passed, perhaps her father, perhaps God? Who’s to say, it mattered only to her.

The coming days brought good and not so good news. As she continued to recover, every new day brought a new challenge, a new hill to climb, each one a little steeper than the one before. ALL of them met with a strength that I had not seen in her before now. Terms that I would not have used to describe her, like stoic, determined, focused, and brave were now written all over her face, shielding her beyond her natural abilities. These were the characteristics of the baseball giants that I idolized in my youth, whom I still idolize to this day. These were the traits that defined my heroes. This child before me was walking along side them now, and I am in awe of her.

Today I am sweating over a hot BBQ, cooking up burgers and dogs for her tenth birthday party. I am watching her out of the corner of my eye holding court at a table surrounded by her friends and her family. She is happy and smiling as if she didn’t have a care in the world, as if none of what she is dealing with is worth tears or fears. She is living in the moment and she is an inspiration to me.

As I reminisce at the foot of my sandlot altar I am introducing my past to my new hero. Her name is Truc Han or KaSandra, and I ask you, all of you, to keep her in your prayers.

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