Friday, March 5, 2010

The Rise and Fall of the 10,000 Things


In the living room, I have a beautiful leather rocker-recliner. It could possibly be the most comfortable chair in the house. But for some reason, when I'm watching my favorite teams and the game is coming down to the wire, I'm incapable of sitting in it. Take last week, for instance. The Cavs were playing the Nuggets in a nationally-televised game. It was over-time. The score was tied. And when it gets to that point, I, for some reason, feel the need to stand up and start pacing. Maggie hates it, since, as Cesar Millan says, dogs can sense our tension. And Donna has become accustomed to it, since I tend to do it in the 9th inning during Indians games and, especially, during shoot-outs when the Penguins are playing. Will this display of anxiety help LeBron find Anderson Varejao underneath for an easy lay-up to go ahead? Will it assist Sidney Crosby in flicking a wrist-shot high on the glove-side to light up the lamp?

Growing up, my father used to harass me all the time whenever a game would be close, score-wise, and I'd display that sense of nervousness. I have trouble sitting still, anyway. As a kid, I would sit on the living room floor during Browns or Indians games and literally rock back-and-forth. The pace would, of course, pick up if, say, the Tribe were down by a run and had men on 2nd and 3rd and only one out. He would ask, "Why do you get so shook up over these games? You can't change the score so why even worry about 'em!"

I'm not sure I understand exactly the innate psychology behind why we "root" for a team. I suspect that some analysts would say that it has something to do with the fact that we're overcompensating for some kind of inadequacy, and then follow it up with the ever-famous "we're living vicariously through our heroes" observation. On some level, I don't doubt that. But I have to admit that when the smoke clears, the game is over, the infield is being raked by the grounds-crew, and the totals have been tallied, I do admit to feeling...a little embarrassed.

Do you ever feel small? Inconsequential? I do, sometimes. As the death tolls continued to climb in Haiti, I wondered time and again about the value of human life. A person as old as me, struggling to get by, with the same dreams and visions and cares and concerns, going about his normal day and all of a sudden is snuffed out in a monent's notice. And not just one, but thousands and thousands. I'm no more important than they are, and yet their lives are over in an instant. Events like these happen on a daily basis. A couple in Iraq having a leisurely breakfast outdoors are suddenly killed by a terrorist bomber. A family in Peru sitting down to dinner dies instantly as a mudslide destroys a whole village. The Beacon Journal today had a story about a family who left Haiti after the earthquake to go to Chile, only to experience homelessness again due to another earthquake!

Again, I'm not sure what to make of it all. My theological sensibilities become disoriented. As a Catholic Christian, I'm told that my life has express meaning and purpose and that I'm loved by a God, unconditionally. And my meager understanding of Eastern thought tells me that these events are as a result of the natural order, the "rise and the fall of the 10,000 things". But knowing that thousands of lives, also with purpose and meaning, can be summarily extinguished sometimes makes me feel not as crucial as I'd been led to believe. Am I any more important than my cousin Champ, who, in his 40's, spends his days confined to a wheel-chair in a facility in Thomas, West Virginia, stricken with MS? I see his posts on Facebook and I look at the photos he takes of birds outside of his bedroom and I know that, aside from ruminating on his past high school athletic successes, the immediate world outside of his bedroom is his only world. And for that I feel guilty and embarrassed and powerless. And yes, small.

I received a note the other day from a former co-worker at KDKA. Another co-worker and friend of ours was recently diagnosed with colon cancer. Perhaps it wasn't that recent, since they've already placed her in a hospice. Donna says that's not good. I called her the other day and I'm sure she knew it was me, although she was under heavy medication. I thought of her lying there and I wondered if she felt inconsequential, and then I cursed myself for having the audacity to try to wonder if I understood anything about what she's feeling right now.

So maybe that's it. Perhaps this incessant need we have for our sports teams to do well is that it offers a brief reprieve from the natural order of things. Sure, it gives us bragging rights along with a solid entertainment option, but I suspect that it's also an ointment, a small band-aid that we apply to occasionally soften the blow of a world that just sometimes doesn't make sense. You know, if Travis Hafner can just pull one down the line and if Cabrera gets a good jump, well a run scored would tie the game and...that makes sense. At least for awhile.

So I pace. Somedays it's the only exercise I get. Luckily, the floor underneath my chair is new, so I won't have to worry about wearing a groove in it, at least for now. Baseball season will start in a month, so I'll have a chance to break it in. It didn't seem to help the other night against the Nuggets, though. The Cavs lost in a squeaker. Good thing I'm going to the gym today. The Indians aren't nearly as loaded as the Cavs. With the Tribe's bullpen woes, I may not have to worry about too many close ballgames in the late innings.

-30-

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