Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Curve Ball Shy

I was 15 year old and playing sandlot ball. My next door neighbor came home early. He was a steel worker, walking the sky high beams of the growing Sears Tower in Chicago's loop. He watched for a few minutes and then offered to pitch for both teams. Jack was a big guy in his mid-thirties. I'm sure he went gentle on us concerning speed. I'm sure he made certain not to hit any of us. But when I came up to bat I fouled off a couple of pitches. He never threw anything but strikes. The next pitch was moving a little and I was able (for probably the first and last time in my life) to time my swing just right, sending the ball soaring to dead center field. I watched my own fly ball as it left the ball park, crossed the street and landed ... on the fly ... in the back yard of some guys house. I remember floating around the bases knowing that this one swing would lift me into the baseball hall of fame in our little neighborhood of guys. I also knew that my days playing here had probably ended. I was getting too old, too big, to keep playing in our neighborhood ballpark.

The next time up Jack struck me out on three pitches.

But the reward of the day came later that evening when I saw my neighbor sitting on his front doorstep. I walked over and sat down next to him, silently hoping he wasn't going to kill me. Instead he said the nicest thing anybody ever said about any athletic ability I ever had (which was not much.) He looked straight at me and said, "You killed the most wicked curveball I ever threw."

Honestly, I had no idea. I never really noticed a wicked curve. I just saw a ball coming and I did my best to put my bat where I thought the ball would go. In reality I probably put the bat where I never meant to put it and just got very lucky. Dead serious about that.

I've faced a thousand curve balls since that day. None of them came in the form of a baseball. They have all come in the form of the incidents of life that I never expected. A suicide. An accident. An argument. A moral failure on the part of a person I trust. A murder. A job change. A confession. A run away. An offer. A rejection. A death. Ad nauseam.

I've been thinking about curve balls this week. You know what makes them so wicked? The fast balls that precede them. If you always expect a curve you will be ready for it when it comes. But when you see fast ball after fast ball after fast ball, well, a curve ball catches you off balance and you swing like a drunk with a thousand pound bat. Fast balls are nice. They are predictable. You know where they come from and where they are going. You know what to do with them.

Then comes the curve. You swing so hard that you look positively cartoonish as you corkscrew yourself into the ground. You end up laying in the dust, wondering where the ball went. Then the catcher pulls it out of his mitt, laughs at you, spits in the dirt, and throws it back to the pitcher. And it's time to get ready for the next pitch. There is always another pitch. And you must always be ready.

We are still trying to brush the dust off this week. It's been a long 2009 when it comes to curve balls. There have been plenty of fast balls too. And we've turned on them pretty well, planting a few across the street behind the houses. But we've yet to truly connect on a curve ball. Honestly, the thought of another one leaves me queazy. I'm a little "curve ball shy." Wondering when it's going to come and from where it will originate.

I am not use to playing in the dust. I can't say as how I like it. I know the final score of the game even though we are still playing. I think I need a pinch hitter.

Jesus. You're up.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Free Floating Thoughts

It's been such an insane weekend. I've tried to turn my brain off with minimal success. One of my greatest downfalls is that I think too much. So I talked to God for a while today. Actually, I talked to God for a long while today. And I decided to tell Him what brings me great joy in life. It came as no surprise to me that each and every "thing" ... was a person. Unexpected death will make you think. It will keep you up late nights. It will wake you up early mornings. Honestly, I am getting tired of sleeping four hours per night. And there isn't a switch to it that I've been able to find. So if you have to think, I figure you would be wise to think about the joys. Otherwise the sadness will overwhelm you and send you tumbling into a dark and seemingly bottomless hole.

So. The list I gave to God was very long. I'm going to share the top 10 with you in no particular order. And my one rule? No sentences. Just a name followed by solitary words that, to me, defines that person. You will notice that this list is a family list. If you are not on it ... no worries. You were very likely on the list I gave to God. And one other thing ... each person could have twenty more things on their list. These are just the top ones that I can remember sitting here in the darkness of a late night living room.

Debbie - Solid. Dependable. Dedicated. Passionate. Wise. Loving. Emotional. Trustworthy. Mine.
Kelli - Stable. Committed. Caring. Focused. Overwhelmed. Capable. Intuitive. Charming.
Joe - Talented. Funny. Inspired. Able. Happy. Carefree.
Elle - Hugs. Arms. Whispers. Laughter. Smiles. Joy.
Scott - Energetic. Mature. Visionary. Trustworthy. Loyal. Creative. Reliable.
Amanda - Sweetness. Able. Strong. Friend. Focused. Athletic.
Christopher - Amazing. Mature. Growing. Hilarious. Fresh. Unsuspecting.
Laura - Real. Brilliant. Caring. Sacrificial. Honest. Thinker.
Jim - Smart. Brother. Independent. Creative. Seeking. Survivor. Fun. Fun. Fun.
Alisha - Caring. Committed. Loyal. Capable. Deep. Creative.

Family ... I love you. This past week has reminded me to tell you that more often. So if you see me staring off into space a bit more frequently over the next few weeks I trust you will understand. If I call you or text you more than usual it's because I want you to know that you are my life. Next to my relationship with my God you are the reasons that I want to continue to walk the planet.