Life, Death and Baseball

[Bumped to the front page, because it's so good. -Cheeseandcorn]

I stopped writing fanposts a couple of years ago because I didn't think I was turning out the kind of quality that justified taking up space on the far right side of the front page. I don't/can't generate the kind of statistical analysis that most people look for on this site, so, aside from comment threads, I generally keep my thoughts to myself.

But not today, and I hope you'll forgive me for it, because I'm hoping that writing this fan-post makes life just a little bit easier. Mostly I'm writing it to get these thoughts out of my head. I'm not sure how many people encounter that problem, but several times a day (some days, at least) an often not-so-profound-or-interesting thought occurs to me that I can't get out of my head until I tell someone about it or write it down, at which point I can move on. All part of my OCD tendencies, I suppose. Read it or not, and I won't blame you if you pick not, but here goes.

My Mom's dying. It's an ugly process and getting uglier by the day. She was diagnosed several weeks ago now and things appear to be progressing rather quickly, more quickly and more painfully than I'd hoped. Over the course of the last 10 days she's lost control of much of her right side and she's become largely uncommunicative, not out of depression or a lack of a desire to communicate, but because her illness has affected the part of her brain that enables her to choose words and get them out of her mouth. Her comprehension of what we say is still there, at least more often than not, but she's often unable to respond in the way she wants, and the damage to her motor skills prevents her from communicating by sign or handwriting. It's a painful thing to watch someone you care about go through. Her frustration is as obvious as it is impossible to remedy.

This afternoon, we took her outside in her wheelchair and placed her under a shade tree next to her sister. Her sister told us stories about things that happened when they were kids, and slowly, Mom's frustration drained from her face. The exhaustion was still evident, but there were smiles and even laughs. And while she listened to her sister reminisce about their childhood, I drifted further into the same big backyard in which I blew entire summers  when I was child. My son and wife followed as I walked around and took in the fresh air and sunshine. My siblings followed too, their own children and grandchild in tow, one of them carrying one of those giant red bats and a plastic ball.

My brother suggested we toss a few pitches. No one objected so we started to play. It wasn't a real game;  the bases were invisible and seem to shift locations at the convenience of the runner. There was laughter, ridiculous run-downs that ended up in the outfield, and the thunking-pop that only a plastic bat swung by an adult can make. And for just about an hour, we all forgot that someone we loved was dying, and that she might well be sitting outside listening to her sister tell stories for the last time. And my Mom watched us play. She didn't try to speak much, but she watched all of us, the people that love her most in the world run around in the grass chasing each other with a plastic bat and ball. For just about an hour, all that mattered was that we were having a good time in each other's company, out in the sun under God's blue sky, playing a game we all learned so long ago we don't even remember the first time we picked up a glove.

Then Mom got tired, as she always does after being awake more than a couple of hours these days. So we took her inside and got ready to put her to bed for a nap. But she didn't want to sleep. After a few minutes she made it clear that she wanted to watch TV. My brother flipped through the channels looking for the westerns that my Mom always loved. He went past a few channels and then Mom spoke. He stopped and asked what she said and she didn't respond right away though we could see she was trying. He asked her if she saw something she wanted to watch and she nodded as best she could.  He went back through the channels again and we all heard her say "National Anthem." Honestly, I think we all thought she was confused again. We didn't know what to make of it, and for a moment, the feeling generated by that blessed hour we'd just spent outside blew out of the room in an instant.

Then my brother went past the Brewer game again. The game was almost two hours old already, and when he went past, he realized they were singing God Bless America at the half-inning break. He turned towards my Mom, a small smile on his face, and asked if that's what she meant. There was a pause, followed by breathy, labored "Yes." The ball game stayed on.

Here's the thing: My Mom never really watched baseball, and as far as I know, she's never been to a Brewer game. But she'd heard me talking about the Brewers for years, and particularly the last several weeks when I've been driving across the state listening to game every night and then spending an hour or two with her before she goes to bed at night. She knows my sister follows the Brewers too, and that her kids have been talking about how well the Brewers are doing for the last few weeks. And my Mom, my wonderful, fantastic, miraculous and loving Mom, told us to turn on a game she didn't care about because she knew WE cared.  It's a small thing, but it sums up every thing I've ever known about her: how much she loves us, how much she's sacrificed for us, and how little time she spends thinking about herself even now. 

Even now.

And that feeling we all had from spending that hour outside came back. At least for a little while.

A lot of people talk and write about baseball in mythical terms. They reach for poetic language to describe the way the game makes them feel, and a lot of times, the results are over-written tripe. I've done it myself, on this very site. I might well be doing it now too (seriously, check out that title.) But what happened today wasn't miraculous, it wasn't the product of some mythical force that exists within the game itself. The game was the medium in which something important was expressed by the people who were there. The power it had, mythic or not, came from us not the game. I think that's the way it always is, and I don't think that takes away from the power or beauty of the game. I'm not sure I have a handle on what exactly happened or how to express it. But I do know this: once again, baseball played a part in a moment, in a day really, that I know I'll never forget. And while there's pain woven through the fabric of that memory there's joy too, and I'm grateful to the game for giving us a way to express it.

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