Tag Archives: humanity

One Big Family

wbcDodger Stadium hosted the World Baseball Classic championship game last week, and I was honored to be in attendance as the United States claimed the title with an 8-0 win over Puerto Rico.  Like the Olympic Games, the WBC takes the field every four years, and it seemed appropriate that the USA finally won a title in its fourth try seeing as how we invited the sport and all.

My youngest daughter was home for spring break and agreed to hang out with old dad for the evening, and we knew it would be fun before we made it through the gate as the Puerto Rican fans made themselves known honking and cheering their way into the parking lot.  It just got better throughout the evening as fans of both nations/teams made their patriotism clear.  Our personal favorite was a gentleman who never stopped banging on a wok with a ladle throughout the marathon four-hour game.

At one point, the national cheers even melded into an antiphonal chant that resembled the cadence of the goofy (and potentially culturally-insensitive) Three Wandering Jews song from my childhood Vacation Bible School days.  “Puerto Rico!” “U.S.A.!”  “Puerto Rico!” “U.S.A.”

The game was sort of terrible.  United States’ pitcher, Marcus Stroman, mystified the Puerto Rican bats while the American hitters scored early and often.  There was some excitement when Stroman carried a no-no into the seventh inning, but Angel Pagan’s base hit took away that fun and the victorious American squad anticlimactically went on to complete the blowout.

Most headed for the exits after the fireworks and confetti declared the world champions, but we stuck around for the trophy presentation.  So did the Puerto Rican team.  At one point, probably predetermined, after the victors paraded around the stadium and the runners-up watched in silence, the two teams met and hugged that from our vantage point beyond the left field foul pole looked like two sets of interlocking fingers.

And there was applause.  

After hours of two competitors cheering, chanting, and heckling one another out of love of country, the two sides came together, and this apparently made everyone happy.

There is much contempt in this old world.  But the applause at Dodger Stadium last Wednesday evening reminded me that respect still has a chance.

Nameless Friends

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For the past six years, “The Strand” has been my Saturday morning running home. It is a gorgeous location, beginning at Will Rogers State Beach on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Temescal Canyon and extending through Santa Monica, Venice, and Marina del Rey, and if you are crazy enough, continues on through Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach to its terminus in Torrance—a grand total of twenty miles. It is a spectacular route with its beautiful sunrises, open sand, crashing ocean waves, occasional dolphin sightings, and eclectic collection of locals and tourists out walking, jogging, cycling, and roller blading all day every day. I love it.

But the best thing about it to me is the crew that assembles there. After running solo for a year or two, my friend, Jeff, joined in once he relocated from Alabama to California. That made a good thing even better. With time, we enlarged our little running group to include friends, colleagues, and students, and I lost track of who all has joined in on our early morning adventures.

There are others, too—friends without names—that I know next to nothing about but immediately recognize and greet there on Saturday mornings. These nameless friends reflect the beautiful diversity of Southern California, and I feel a strange connection with each and every one despite such limited interaction. My favorite is a gentleman who rides his bike wearing earbuds and wraparound shades and after months of my unnoticed waving one day looked up and became one of my best buddies. He playfully criticizes me when I have been absent and notices when our little running group has grown or disappeared and points these things out in the two seconds we share in passing. Two seconds on intermittent Saturdays, and I doubt I will never know his name or his story, but he is my friend.

I’m really not sure why this seems special to me, but it does. It may be some deep desire to live in harmony with all of humanity for no other reason than we happen to share this planet. A desire to be connected to everyone in this world, named or not.

Whatever. I’ll be back at The Strand to see all of my friends soon and will be happy to see them.

Just Mercy

My colleague, Jessie, said that I needed to read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I told her that I already had a sizable stack of books to read. She brought me a copy anyway. I read it. She was right.

Cue the Twilight Zone music because in the middle of the inspiring, troubling, quick read, I learned that Bryan Stevenson was scheduled to speak at Pepperdine this semester. I attended the lecture this past week and had the distinct honor of attending a dinner with Mr. Stevenson afterward. It turned out that I needed to hear him speak, too.

So you can quit reading and buy the book now and thank me later.

If you need further encouragement, how about Desmond Tutu?

“Bryan Stevenson is America’s young Nelson Mandela, a brilliant lawyer fighting with courage and conviction to guarantee justice for all.”

Wow, you still haven’t purchased the book? Let’s try John Grisham:

“Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South. Though larger than life, Atticus exists only in fiction. Bryan Stevenson, however, is very much alive and doing God’s work fighting for the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope. Just Mercy is his inspiring and powerful story.”

Okay, I’m not playing around now. If justice and/or the American South and/or the United States of America and/or humanity means anything to you, read this book.

That’s all I need to write today, but as a bonus consider arguably the best line from Stevenson’s book: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” Think about it: What is the worst thing you have ever done, and does that define you? Are you really best described as: Cheater? Thief? Addict? Criminal? Liar?

Well, if you answered Yes, I join Stevenson in declaring that you are not. But for those of us who answer No, then what allows us to define anyone else by their worst moment?

A Human Playlist

It is scandalous that one of the pressing issues of our time has not received an ounce of attention in presidential politics and that is the issue of whether or not to listen to music while running. There is a raging national debate on this topic, and by raging I mean an article in Runner’s World just over a year ago with the clever title, “Should You Listen to Music While Running?” It is possible you may have missed it.

There is the Purist camp that says to leave the music at home when you hit the road, arguing (a) safety, i.e., that Death Cab for Cutie should not become an appropriate title for the final chapter in your posthumously-written biography; and (b) that it is better to listen to your heart (h/t Roxette) than your tunes.

I am a Purist.

Then, there is the Overwhelming Majority camp that thinks we Purists are silly. The countervailing argument is motivation, both music-spurs-me-on motivation, and what-person-in-their-right-mind-runs-and-music-is-the-only-way-I-can-do-this motivation. These are obvious and compelling arguments.

I am obviously not compelled.

My Purist rationale goes beyond safety and becoming one with your body, but it is not that I am an Originalist, claiming that if God had wanted us to listen to music when we run that we would have been born with wires hanging out of our ears. Instead, I dream of a world where we at least occasionally say hello. Our mobile phones are terrible enough. I simply wish that at least we runners would look up and notice each other.

Once, I was running in Santa Monica and met a young woman rounding the corner running in the opposite direction. She had on an Arkansas Razorbacks t-shirt, my alma mater, which brought a huge smile to my face and an instinctive cheer of Go Hogs! So, first off, without context, this is a rather offensive thing to shout at a young female early on a Saturday morning. Further, since she was not a Purist, all she knew was that a tall/pale/skinny/bald/excited/middle-aged man raised his fist and shouted at her. My recollection is that her reaction resembled a terrified deer leaping over a fence.

I felt sort of terrible but concluded that if God wanted her to listen to music while she ran that she would have been born with wires hanging out of her ears.

I am pretty sure that we don’t look up and notice the stars enough. I am also pretty sure that we don’t reach down and touch the actual earth enough. But I know that more and more we are looking at or listening to a device instead of a fellow human being, and I think that is terrible.

Maybe the title of this blog is prophetic and we really will start to look up.

Human Goodness

October is one of my twelve favorite months, but baseball might earn it top billing. It helps that I am a lifelong St. Louis Cardinal fan.

I missed most of the important Cardinals-Pirates game this past Monday due to my teaching schedule but made it home just in time to witness the scary and violent collision between two Cardinal outfielders, Peter Bourjos and Stephen Piscotty. Piscotty, a phenomenal rookie talent, was knocked out cold on the play. Players were visibly shaken as Piscotty lay motionless on the outfield grass, and players and fans alike prayed in the unusual silence of a pennant race baseball game between division rivals.

Eventually, the medical staff strapped the promising young athlete down and drove him along the warning track on the way to the hospital as the crowd silently watched and ESPN cameras followed. In a memorable moment, Piscotty weakly raised his left hand to wave to the visiting crowd.¹ The crowd erupted in applause as if their hometown hero had just delivered a key base hit.

I was moved simply by the ovation.

I have a master’s degree in cynicism that I’m not particularly proud of, but it allows me to create all sorts of scenarios. Maybe it was Cardinal fans that happened to scream their applause next to ESPN’s audio sensors. Maybe people from Pittsburgh are particularly kind. Maybe the Pirate fans coincidentally tried to start The Wave just as Piscotty gave a wave.

But I don’t think so.

I’m pretty sure there is some level of goodness in all human beings, and that is exactly what moved me. It was a brief moment when people who paid real money in hopes of watching their team destroy the hopes and dreams of the other team raised a hearty cheer for an enemy solider simply because they identified with him as a fellow human being.

A preacher once asked congregants to draw a line down the center of a piece of paper and write all the reasons they had to be happy on one side and all the reasons they had to be sad on the other and then asked which side they chose to live on. I suggest the same exercise but listing the reasons to believe in the goodness of humanity on one side and the reasons to believe otherwise on the opposite: Which side of that exercise will you choose to live on?

There are elements of both goodness and not-goodness in my life (e.g., with Piscotty hurt on the field, I am embarrassed to say that I had the actual thought that I was thankful that Bourjos made the spectacular catch) and am darn near positive that goes for everyone else, too, but what a difference it makes when we see the good in another before we see anything else.

I once read advice to live life as a reverse paranoid, i.e., walk around convinced that everyone is out to help you. That is a definite day-changer!

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¹ Piscotty is okay. Thankfully, he only suffered a head contusion, but it was scary.