Tag Archives: presence

Living on Top of a Battlefield

IMG_0235There are several historical markers regarding the Battle of Nashville from the American Civil War in our new neighborhood, including a monument just north of and less than a mile from our current house. I ran over at dawn last week to remember the fallen, and the early morning fog created an appropriately eerie vibe.

I had decided the night before that I should learn more about that terrible battle that occurred in my new hometown, and Wikipedia informed me that in just two days here approximately three thousand soldiers died just before Christmas in 1864. I also learned—and this caught me completely off guard—that we “are living on top of a battlefield.” In fact, our current neighborhood is basically the place where the Confederate troops drew their lines on the opening day of the battle.

I really did not know what to do with that information.

But I could, and did, imagine that fateful day. It was reportedly a foggy morning, and in December it must have been bitter and cold. In my imagination I could see those young men in gray uniforms filled with adrenaline, antsy and eager, thinking they are ready for a fight. They stood there on my street, and we nodded at one another in recognition. I thought of them as contemporaries, but in reality I am much older, and they are just kids—as well as my great-grandparents. By the end of the day many will be on the run, and by the end of the following day many will be dead. But 155 years later all of their spirits remain, and I could see them there, in the fog, yet clear as day.

What were they saying? I heard no voices, but their ghostly presence still spoke to me. But what were they saying? I leaned in and strained to listen.

Finally, one young ghost-soldier, who looked remarkably like me, said in a whisper, “We are the same, you and I. We are no different. I once lived on this battlefield, too, and I stood here just like you do now, proud and brave and self-assured and afraid. I once lived on this battlefield, too, but I died here. You still have the gift of life. Don’t waste it. Don’t waste your life. Choose carefully what you live for — and would die for.”

The ghostly images of those who came before me faded from my mind’s eye, but their presence and their voices remain. They keep saying, “We are the same. Choose carefully.”

Cardinal Baseball

My favorite baseball team swung through Los Angeles this past week, and I had the rare opportunity to catch the Cardinals in person both at Angel Stadium of Anaheim and Dodger Stadium.  The Anaheim game increased the number of places I have been the “visiting fan” to six stadiums.  For those scoring at home, in such a hostile environment I choose to wear my Cardinals gear but adopt a low-key approach—in part out of respect for being in someone else’s house but mostly to avoid trying out my Jackie Chan impersonation when under attack from inebriated fans in a post-game parking lot.  I hate to hurt people.

I love baseball because of my dad.  He grew up as a Depression-era Cardinals fan in Missouri, and in our daily games of catch in the backyard, told mesmerizing stories of seeing Dizzy Dean and the Gashouse Gang in an exhibition game in the 1930s and of later games at old Sportsman’s Park, including a doubleheader that pitted Stan Musial against Willie Mays.  I was hooked.  My dad, of course, was my first hero, so when your hero tells stories of heroes, well, it is sort of hard not to be forever influenced.

My first trip to see the Cardinals in person was in the middle of a sticky St. Louis summer in 1979.  We couldn’t afford a St. Louis hotel or to leave our family without a car, so my dad bought two bus tickets for our first ever father-son trip.  We left before sunrise and arrived in time to wander around the city.  We checked out the zoo in Forest Park and gazed in awe at the mighty Gateway Arch, but we came to watch baseball—and we watched the Redbirds get destroyed by the Cincinnati Big Red Machine sixteen to four.  The score didn’t matter.  I will never forget sitting in the left field loge seats behind Lou Brock at old Busch Memorial Stadium with my dad.  Afterward, we boarded the bus and rode home through the night with me asleep on his lap.  At that point it was the best day of my life, and now so many years later, it remains pretty darn close.

There is a crazy cool baseball website that has box scores and game information from MLB games dating all the way back to 1913, and I discovered that every play of my special baseball trip with my dad is recorded there.  It was a Thursday evening (July 19), and 27,228 were in attendance.  Dave Collins led off the game by grounding out to Keith Hernandez, unassisted, followed by a walk to Joe Morgan.  Lou Brock went three for five with three ribbies.  Ray Knight hit a grand slam.  Johnny Bench hit a single to left that scored Dave Concepcion.  Mario Soto struck out Tony Scott to end the game.  The game lasted two hours and fifty-two minutes.

Nobody cares about the details but me, but I care enough for the whole world combined.  It reminds me of an innocent kid with a hero dad on a grand adventure.  I suspect that is why I fought Los Angeles traffic twice this past week—just to tap into that special feeling from thirty-seven years ago.  My dad has been gone for over twenty years now, but when I watch the Cardinals play baseball in a major-league stadium, he is right beside me.

 

Real Love

mom2

I am almost certain that Mother’s Day was not created for my personal enjoyment, but I have to say that it was pretty lonely this time around.  It marked the fourth Mother’s Day since my mother’s passing, and this year my wife was in Arkansas for a high school graduation so even that was limited to a text message celebration.

Of all my mom’s wonderful characteristics, that she was always there for me ranks near the top, which makes her absence more pronounced.  I know that I have tons of people still there for me, including an amazing wife, beautiful daughters, and a bevy of family and friends, but no one, biologically speaking, has “been there” like your mother.  It is a special, indescribable bond.

Pardon my boasting, but mine was the very best.  You can arm wrestle over second place, which is still a pretty great accomplishment given the billions of mothers in world history, but the gold medal stand is already occupied.

One story that describes my mom:  I moved my little family five-hundred miles away from my widowed mother in 1999, which she handled well.  Not long after our move, a job opportunity emerged in my hometown (near mom), and I submitted an application.  The organization decided to interview two final candidates, including me, but after deep reflection, I decided to pull out prior to the interview.  My mom was so happy.

That last line is neither a typo nor sarcasm—it is truth.  Even though my mom missed us very much (well, honestly, probably the grandkiddos most of all), she felt that I would not be happy in the potential job, and she would rather I be far away and happy than nearby and not.

That is how I define real love.  The happiness of the object of your love > personal happiness.

Mother’s Day may have been a bit lonely this year, but it remains very, very special.