Smack! The baseball hit the six-year old boy right in the mouth and it took all the fortitude his young dad could muster to keep from running onto the field. The lad was at his first ever tee-ball practice and he was used to people lobbing softer balls toward him. This one had been thrown by another kid whose aim was a bit errant, so the sphere skimmed the hard dirt surface in front of him, bouncing up to batter a target it wasn’t intended for. But the dad stood where he was behind the fence and let the boy’s coach run out to check him. A little blood and a little more wounded pride, but he tearfully assured the coach that he would stay where he was and keep on with the practice.
On the way home later, the conversation went something like, “That ball hit you pretty hard out there.” “Yeah, and look at it now!” (Said with a split, puffy lip stuck out.) “You know, you can quit if you want to…” “Quit? I’m going to play baseball!” And play baseball, he did. It was about 9 years later that he finally put away the cleats and glove, after many different teams and All-Star games. He turned into a really good baseball player, but more than that, he became a young man who knew what it was to tough it out and go for his goals.
It’s been a few years since that young man showed the doggedness it took to stick through the pain and effort, but the early lessons keep bearing fruit 20 years later. Those lessons aren’t lost on the dad either, now a little older and a very small amount wiser. Of course, one of the things he’s learned is that these lessons are neither rare, nor remarkable. But sometimes, the reminder still helps to keep life in perspective.
This week, his youngest granddaughter took her first steps on her own. She turns one in another week or so, and her frame of reference is widening at an amazing rate (not that this is unusual, either). As we all do, she started out aware of only the most basic needs, food, sleep, a mother’s touch. As she’s grown, her scope has expanded also. Still very much self-absorbed, she realizes that she wants other things; brightly colored toys, different food than she usually has (even hot coffee), certain people (Grandma’s the best!). She even wants more mobility, but she herself is perfectly willing to leave the transportation to anyone who will carry her. She started crawling only out of the most dire need (Mama has 4 kids and was thoughtless enough to leave her on the floor!). And now, even though crawling is good enough, these adults around her keep standing her up and having her walk on the bottom of her feet.
And still today, she doesn’t really want to walk. She has to be put upright on her feet and have someone in front of her for whom she is motivated enough to put out the effort. She even fusses about it. But parents and grandparents understand that this is the next achievement in the natural progression. Yes, she’s going to fall down a time or two. She may even split her lip open, but this is how life moves along. We try new things even when we are frightened of the effort and the possibilities. And, the result is a complete person, one who has taken their fair share of licks and won their fair share of victories.
For today, she knows she’s done something really good. Everyone praises her and Grandpa sweeps her up in his arms, telling her how smart she is. It’s a picture that’s been seen millions of times before and will be repeated that many more times, but for right now, all she knows is that she’s done something stupendous, and the smile on her face is living proof.
Sometimes we forget that our lives are supposed to be spent learning and the pop-quizzes should come along fairly regularly. It is possible to become a drop-out. We just decide we’ve gotten the degree we want in the school of hard knocks and we’re done. Sit tight, do the same things every day, and no one will ever hit us in the mouth with anything. We figure we’ve learned everything that we need for our profession and just mark time. But we were never intended to be done, never intended to quit learning, never intended to sit on the sidelines watching. For many of us today, it’s confusing to see friends who refuse to learn about new technologies, refuse to contemplate and discuss current events, and refuse to take an active part in any unfamiliar activity. We live in an exciting time, when information is at our fingertips, facts are verified with the push of a few buttons, and new experiences await us at every turn. We were meant to live ’til we die!
You’d better be careful, little girl! One step leads to another all through your life! And watch out for those wild pitches…
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
(From “The Hobbit” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien)
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the Faith.”
(The Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7)