Our grandson hit a homer in Babe Ruth League. With the bases full. A grand slam... or, as the slugger himself likes to hear it celebrated, a "grand salami."
As he rounded third base near our field level seats (actually, portable lawn chairs) eluding a pickle (those of you not familiar with baseball lingo, please Email me for an explanation) to touch home plate, I could be heard moaning to other parents and grandparents nearby, "Oh dear, we'll have to hear about this one for the remainder of the week!"
My prophecy has been accurate, but the young slugger's framing of his feat was a delightful surprise.
On the way home after the game he downplayed his heroics: the other team didn't expect the last batter in the lineup to hit it so far; the other team's slugger smashed it further (but, of course, our Babe Ruth boy playing a deep left field caught it); the "picklers" should have tagged him out; and other self-deprecating comments. This from a fifteen year old who the day before, following another game in which he excelled, asked me who was the best player on the field that game. As much as it troubled me to massage his ego, I told him the truth, that he was.
Could this uncommon modesty be the dawning of maturity in his soul?
The first hint of an understanding that Jack Horner ("who sat in the corner...") was really a jerk? That heroics are always better inflated by onlookers than by the heroes themselves? That Jimmy Stewart's "ah shucks" attitude made him the most beloved actor of a generation? That tomorrow and strike outs will come? That the best way to bask in your own glory is to deny its existence?
Ah, well, I shouldn't burden the young slugger with so many old man's afterthoughts. Better instead to celebrate his emerging wisdom. He and his brother, after all, did shave their upper lips for the first time this past week.
Which, the foregoing narrative, provides a window on the old man's use of his time in retirement. Baseball, lots of baseball, not playing it, watching it. Twenty games on the fields of Greater Hartford, freezing, burning, and, only occasionally, comfortably situated in polo shirt and lawn chair with my trusty bichon perched on my lap, and just a pesky gnat or a grandson's strikeout to disturb the evening's reverie.
A new bumper sticker has begun to appear: "Life is good." We had occasion at a celebration of the summer solstice to remember from whence this conviction arises. The liturgists read from Genesis 1 about the creation of all life. At the end of the day when God looks and sees and approves of what has been made, we were invited to repeat the benediction: "And God saw that it was good." That's not a universally-held opinion in the religions of the world. Science, value-neutral science, can't corroborate the claim.
God knows, human misery abounds. Personal. Communal. The insults of illness. The violence of anger. Bob Wright, my late colleague in ordained UMC ministry, viewing up close and personal my conduct of the pastorate in Valley Stream, once asked me with tongue in cheek, "Well, Bob, how does it feel to have so placid a ministry?" True enough, I have been spared the vocational ordeals many clergy have had to face. And I have had the support and friendship of a patient woman for fifty-two years. But, as a fellow exerciser at Cornerstone Aquatics noted about her former pastor, that he had his demons, I do too, have my moments of angst.
But on a June evening with a grandson swatting, no pounding, a grand slammer, it's a no-brainer, in fact it's an obligation, to salute this mortal existence with the ancient Jewish benediction: "It [life] is good."