Field of Dreams makes me cry. There, I said it. It is not just that scene either. You know the one. Ray finally has that catch with his Dad which somehow melts all the hurt off their souls which had culminated with an act for which Ray could not forgive himself. First off, I wasn't sure what “Have a catch” meant for the longest time. Here, we say we are going to throw the ball, as in, “Where y'all going?” “We're going to throw the ball.” The catch is implied. Secondly, not only do I love my Dad, I actually like the guy and always have. There aren't too many Father-Son issues between us. Even with all that, I do find myself choking up a bit at that scene, but, by that point, I've dampened my shirt a few times already. Early on in the movie, after the field has been built, but before Ray has gone off on his search for Darth Vader, the old linthead, Shoeless Joe Jackson (inexplicably played by Ray Liotta), asks Ray if he is in Heaven. “No,” Ray replies, “It's Iowa.” That is the first scene that moves me and I pretty much am a mess for the rest of the movie.
Baseball could be a lot like Heaven. The grass is green. It is most often played in beautiful weather. At the higher levels, there is beer and someone to bring it to you along with your boiled peanuts. Everyone is wearing nice uniforms, crisp and white for the home team, a distinguished gray for visitors. None of that gaudy, garish green or blue you might find in Hell. Pure class all the way. There could be worse ways to spend an eternity.
Since I can remember, I have been worried about death and eternity. Worried. Obsessed. It is all the same. As soon as I can wrap my head around either, I realize I haven't a clue and the freak out begins anew. The best I have been able to come up with is that I am a finite being and have no hope of understanding the infinite. That usually gives me some peace as I truly do believe we are at a point in our evolution that there are still things out there that are truly incomprehensible to us. Why worry about something I have no ability to solve?
Part of my time is spent on the quest for God. I often pray, usually silently and furtively, asking to be a better man, father, husband, friend. I am not one to go out looking for signs. I eat my toast without a second glance, using the first only to confirm it has been buttered before I apply my peach jam. Quite often, my faith leaves me to be replaced by what I feel to be my rational side, sure that our biological function shall cease and there shall be me no more. “Signs” are suspect to me anyway. I actively shun superstition in most of my life. I do not care where I sit at a poker table, what I wear, what I ate, or what the last hand was. Apart from pocket aces, I don't have a “favorite” hand. It is dumb to think otherwise. I pick up pennies, especially if they are “tails” up. Hell, I would walk under ladders if I wasn't scared of having a paint bucket dropped on my head. In short, I feel dumb when I believe in things that can't be proved. I am no scientist by profession, but I would look good playing one on TV.
Every once in awhile, something will happen that will give me pause for a moment and boost my faith. On April 2, 2010, I was reading Three Cups of Tea. It is an astounding book which I feel everyone who cares about anything should read. (Note: There has been some controversy over this book since I wrote this post, but the feelings I had still stand) In short, a big American failed to summit K2 and ended up stranded in a remote Pakistani village. He was treated so kindly, he decided he should return and build a school for the children of the village, boys and girls. Oh yeah, this was a Muslim village and was just a few years before the Taliban started using that part of the World to stage for Afghanistan.
After overcoming a long series of obstacles, he finally finished his first school and started searching for a spot for his second. Unfortunately, he ended up in Waziristan and soon found himself being held captive for eight days before being loaded into a truck, blind-folded, hooded, and tied. For most of those eight days, he tried to explain his mission to bring schools to all the youths of Pakistan-probably not the brightest idea in a culture where education of Women is not particularly encouraged nor tolerated. He asked for a Koran he could not read, prayed five times a day at the call of the Adhan, and caused no problems for his captors but for the question of what to do with him. Finally, he found himself bound in he back of the truck, braced by machine gun toting, hashish smelling men who gave no indication of his fate other than their very own appearance. Offered a cigarette, Mortenson refused, thinking he did not want the last taste in his mouth that of tobacco and hash. Instead, his thoughts dwelled on his soon to be born daughter and brave Wife, sitting at home in Bozeman, wondering why his promised phone call of the week before had not occurred. Finally, the trucked stopped and he was lifted to the ground as he heard the gunfire in the air all around him. Waiting for the bullet that would end it all, he was shocked when his hood was torn off and he saw the revelry and cheer on the faces circling. “What's going on?” was his obvious question. He was immediately told it would probably be best if he didn't worry too much about that; just understand that it was a bit complicated and it could have gone either way for him. Suffice it to say that this group had decided they were happy to have this particular American in their region and happy to have him build schools for all the boys and girls he wanted. In fact, "here's a little bit to help you" and 400 rupees were pressed into his hand.
That part got me. This guy had given up what we consider a normal life to do the extraordinary for a group of people roundly ignored by the Western World unless we needed them to fight the Soviets or were worried about their access to a government that controls a large nuclear stockpile. He worked as a night nurse in a burn unit to get enough money to buy his plane tickets to Pakistan. He sent 508 letters asking for donations and got one response (Tom Brokaw with a $100 check included). Whatever hardship was thrown in his way, he stepped over because he had decided his purpose was to help children of a generation that had no chance at any type of formal education unless he did it. Without Greg Mortenson, there is no way this would be done, especially considering what was about to happen in 2001. Now, it all appeared as it was about to end off the tailgate of a truck in a backwater of Pakistan with a bullet(s) that had probably been appropriated by the U.S. Congress. All of a sudden, there was a new beginning. Unbelievably, his life had been spared in a region where another disappearance would soon occur with a tragic result.
When I finished the chapter, I wept. “There,” I thought, “Proof of God in the salvation of Greg Mortenson.” I didn't let the usual thoughts of “Where was God when Daniel Pearl went missing?,” or “How about all those kids picking up cluster bombs because they look like toys?” No, for a moment, my faith was absolute, proven by an event ten years ago on the other side of the World.
Within thirty minutes, I was back to despair. I washed some clothes, read some more, and generally goofed off. Looking out the window as the sun was just beginning to set, I realized it was all happenstance. I was here by chance and there was no use worrying about anything I could not control. But, the worry never ceases. At that moment, on the radio came a song I've heard maybe twice in my life on this particular station. “Gotta Serve Somebody,” came gently through the air. A Jewish fella, I think. Converted to Christianity and put out an album about which a lot of Dylanites sneer. I don't know where Bob sits these days on the scale of cosmic creation, but he got me there on this particular day. Well played, Lord.
That night, I went to a six-year-old's baseball game. Excuse me, seven-year-old. It was his birthday. Earlier, we were at Chuck-E-Cheese with a passel of his friends and our family. Everybody had a grand old time and I dominated the skee-ball. It's what I do. At the ballgame, Jack struck out in his first plate appearance, making it five in a row over the first three games. This is his first year and he is struggling to figure out how to play the game. Scratch that, he knows how to play; With a big smile on his face. Everything else is gravy. Anyway, he came up again in the third and promptly took the first pitch (didn't swing). He turned his head to stare at me. I nodded my head in approval as I had told him after his first at-bat to not swing at the first pitch next time. He needed to learn he did not have to swing just because the ball was pitched. Mission accomplished.
The next two pitches were swinging strikes, but the swings were better as the work with the tee was obviously paying off. On the next pitch, he swung exactly on time and the ball pinged to the hole in short. It took a moment for everyone to realize that Jack was standing at the plate watching the path of the ball along with the rest of us. “RUN!” came the roar of the crowd. Everyone knew it was the first time he had hit the ball and they wanted him to make it to first. Off he finally went, beating the throw by a hair. He jumped up and down on the bag with both feet for a few beats and finally settled down just in time for about three feet and six inches of hitting fury in the form of Tony to send one screaming into the same hole. Once again, it took a moment for everyone to realize Jack was still on first. Again, “RUN!” This time though, it was followed up by, “TO SECOND!” as Jack took a 45 degree angle off the bag out into right field. The throw was wild to second and third and the next thing you know, Jack hit the plate with both hands and almost turned a somersault. I don't know why he touched the plate with his hands; He's seven.
His third at-bat went almost exactly the same way. Ping, followed by a run to first (without the exhortation this time), advancement to second, third, and home off the bat of Tony and hands to the plate again. After the game, he was awarded the game ball for his first hits and scores and for it being his birthday. His Grandpa and I sat there giddy. “Thank you for calling and reminding me,” he said.
“No problem,” I replied, “Glad you could make it.”
“I didn't even have to wear an ace bandage on my wrist.”
My quizzical look clued him in to the fact I had forgotten some story of my own youth.
“You can't stick mail with a bad wrist,” he continued.
That was it. Dad worked nights for forty years or so and had work conflicts with many of our events. He would sometimes call in injured in order to come to our games, wearing an ace bandage wrapped around his wrist just in case someone saw him at the game. The memory of him coming up to me after a game on “B” Avenue with the bandage wrapped around his hand wrapped around a five slipped to me for a home run came back to me immediately. Looking back, some other parent in the crowd must have told him it was customary to pay a little for a home run. Five dollars in 1980 bought a lot of Astro-pops and Dubble Bubble at a little league baseball park.
After his game, we took Jack to Rush's for a milkshake and hot dog. I think he was oblivious to how happy Dad and I were. If he noticed, he thought it was for his birthday. The hits, the game ball, the kudos from the coaches and parents were just a continuation of what he had already called, “The Greatest Day Ever!” I was having a hard time disagreeing with him.
Earlier that day, after the party, Jack had asked me, “Is this Heaven?”
“What do you mean?” I wanted to know.
“This. Being with your friends and you and Grandpa and being happy.”
“You know Buddy, It might be,” was all I could say.
It sure wasn't Iowa.