Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Last Word . . . For Now

Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works. – Virginia Woolf
In the spring of 1987, Faye Moscowitz, a soft-spoken instructor and author, introduced me to the personal essay in a night class on creative writing at the Edmund Burke School in Washington, D.C. Two years earlier, Moscowitz had published A Leak in the Heart: Tales from a Woman’s Life, a collection of short, autobiographical essays on growing up in a small Michigan town, in an unassimilated Orthodox Jewish family, during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Her writing is elegant and simple. In A Leak in the Heart, her words paint a picture, frozen in time, of the insular world of her youth, days of struggle and conflict, when she was torn between the comfort of tradition and the seduction of modernity. She describes feeling the blues at Christmas while in third grade, when it seemed everyone around her was celebrating the birth of Christ and she was an outsider, unable to fit in; of marrying at the age of eighteen and settling for a life of child rearing and housekeeping, because that is what was expected of young Orthodox Jewish women in those days. She writes of when, in her thirties, she developed the self-confidence to attend college while raising four children, and of how she eventually became a political activist and feminist, a writer and a teacher.

Her writing class consisted of ten students, men and women of all ages and stages in life who sought an outlet for their more creative selves. Seekers all of us, we listened to Moscowitz discuss the process of writing creatively about personal memories and experiences. She assigned us writing exercises to get us started, and each week in class we read aloud our work and offered each other constructive criticism. It was Moscowitz who taught me the most important lesson of all: simply write and the words will form. My writing was undisciplined and uneven back then, but I learned that if I did not put pen to paper, I would never write at all.

Although I would take another writing class in the summer of 2001, taught by a lawyer turned writer who encouraged me to pursue more seriously the craft of writing, these brief diversions into creativity failed to induce in me a commitment to write for pleasure, to devote the time and attention required to pursue writing even for the simple love of writing. Through the years, I contemplated often a life of writing, but did little to follow through. Without a reason to write, or a class-imposed deadline, there was always an excuse – work, parental responsibilities, and lack of time – some reason or obstacle that stood in the way.

But that finally changed in August 2009, when I began writing the collection of essays found on these pages. A small but committed readership and imaginary, self-imposed deadlines encouraged me to write with some regularity, to create what is now Ehlers on Everything. For the past three-and-a-half years I have made time to think, write, and engage with the world. Publishing the essays and stories on this site has been a labor of love and has allowed me to express my thoughts, opinions, and insights on aspects of my life and the lives of others; to explore my passions – baseball, politics, and religion; to ask questions, about life, faith, and the things that matter. It has allowed me to write about universal themes that affect everyone, but which many of us often overlook or ignore; to write about the enduring condition of the human spirit, the beauty of redemption and second chances, the power of compassion and my hopes for humankind.

Over what are now 120 essays, I have reflected on the passage of time and unmet dreams; the conflicts of faith in a secular age and the quest for eternal truth; my bond with baseball, in which I see life in all its dimensions and which allows me to recapture, in words, the essence of lost youth. I have examined issues of war and peace, law and economics, social justice and civic obligation. I have attempted to provide a perspective on the key social and political issues of our time without, I hope, being overly judgmental or disrespectful of opposing views. I have promoted civility in our political discourse. I have suggested that Americans have much for which to be proud, but that we should not be smug, for we alone do not have all the answers to the world’s problems. I have written about the people I admire and from whom I find inspiration, and about historical events for which I find parallels and guidance for confronting today’s challenges.

As another year comes to a close, as violent conflict continues to rage in Afghanistan and the Middle East, as gun violence continues to cut short the lives of our children here at home, as our politics continues to be fragmented and our nation divided, I am taking a temporary sabbatical from Ehlers on Everything. I do not intend to stop writing, only to change venue, to modify the location of my canvas. The recent tragedy in Newtown proves that, while I could continue to write about many of the same issues over again, I risk repeating myself while offering little in the way of fresh insight and perspective. Although I will happily trade my day job should The New York Times come calling, I am not a columnist that needs to submit 1,000 words of material on current events every third day. It is time to pursue more creative avenues for my writing, to explore fiction and the short story as an art form, to confront humanity in all its dimensions. A year-long foray into fiction will, I hope, allow me to further examine in-depth the themes of redemption and forgiveness, the disappointment of dreams unfulfilled, our aspirations for the human spirit, the ever present search for God in the messiness that is life on Earth, and other issues and themes more flexibly explored in the context of fiction.

“We write to taste life twice,” wrote Anais Nin, “in the moment and in retrospect.” I do not write for money or fame; if those were my goals, I have failed miserably. I love to write – not because it is easy, it is not – for it allows me to better understand the world in all its complexity. Writing forces clarity of thought and a deeper sense of self-awareness. Words matter, and a well-crafted essay or story has the power to move people, to change hearts and minds, if only for a moment. “The difference between the right word and the almost right word,” wrote Mark Twain, “is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

“If you want to be a writer,” teaches Stephen King, “you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” It is for this reason I must devote more time to reading, studying, and reflecting, to further refine my writing and develop and encourage my creative instincts; to explore in a less restrictive platform my quest for the human spirit; and to write about experiences that have influenced my outlook on life, the people that move and inspire me, and the issues that continue to confound all of us.

Thomas Mann once said, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” That is certainly true for me. But while I must continue to write, think, and read, I must also allow myself the opportunity to fail. Only if I push myself beyond my limits; only if I demand perfection where such is impossible, can I ever seek to be a writer.

Some of the essays on these pages, including those published in Eat Bananas and Follow Your Heart (Bookstand Publishing, 2011) and others I hope to publish in an upcoming collection, have started conversations and allowed us to talk about matters of importance. The essays have on occasion allowed us to reflect on life, faith, mortality, and the human condition, to examine questions and issues often neglected and overlooked in the noise of life. Some of my writing is self-directed, for how could it otherwise be? It is what I know, and about the only thing upon which I can speak with some authority. But I never intended these essays to be self-centered; to the extent I have failed in this, I offer my sincerest regrets.

Last Spring, I attended two commencement ceremonies, Jennifer’s graduation from American University in May and Hannah’s graduation from Upper Dublin High School in June. Commencements are happy and sad affairs all at once. We are happy and proud of our children’s’ accomplishments, but sad that they are moving on to a new journey. The commencement ceremony is a stark reminder that life moves quickly and that we must savor precious moments while we can. But in our sadness we should not forget that a commencement is not the end of something, but the start of something new, for the word itself means “the beginning”. So, this is my commencement of sorts, my graduation from Ehlers on Everything, the start of a new journey in fiction and short stories, and an attempt to more deeply reflect on life and the adventures, conflicts, and passions that come with it.

Henry David Thoreau admonished, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” I do not know if I have met Thoreau’s standards, if I have “stood up to live.” But in some small way, from the pleasure writing gives me to the soulful insights of the written word, I have come to grasp a deeper involvement with life and the world. I abhor small talk. My notion of success differs from that of mainstream culture. I take comfort in the words of author Erica Kennedy, who died this year at the youthful age of 42 and once asked what “having it all” actually means. “Does it mean having some fancy title, executive perks, making a lot of money, having your book on The New York Times’s best-seller list? Or does it mean waking up and looking forward to your day, whatever you make of it?”

In our remaining time on Earth, may we all wake up and look forward to the days and make something of them. To all of my faithful readers, and to anyone else who has ever ventured to these pages and spent even a little time here, you have my deepest thanks and gratitude. May peace come to you this New Year and may the world be filled with love and compassion for all.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Marty and Gertrude: An American Story

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. - Henry David Thoreau
Some people believe in destiny and fate, others in free will. For most of us, life is but a roll of the dice, a complex mixture of chance and circumstance that affects the course of our lives. We do not choose the country of our birth and have no say in the immediate circumstances of our upbringing. We do not choose our ethnicity, our race, or the major events of history that coincide with our own personal histories. Some people are born rich and privileged, while others are born poor and unloved. But all of us must learn to live with the cards we are dealt and, ultimately, choose how we live.

Through my relationship with Andrea, I have been blessed these past ten years to have come to know two extraordinary human beings, Marty and Gertrude Gelman. They are Andrea’s parents, but more importantly, they are models of decency and how to live one’s life; two people who together have confronted life’s many challenges and built lives of rich fulfillment.

Born in the roaring twenties and raised in the Great Depression, survivors of the Great War, the story of Martin and Gertrude Gelman is an American story. They first met in 1938, when the photograph above was taken. I am not certain who took the picture, but at that very moment Gert Golden, a sassy 15 year-old girl from West Oak Lane, was introduced to Marty Gelman of the Logan section of Philadelphia. The young man making the introduction was Marty’s best friend, Seymour Frank. Gertrude and Seymour were dating at the time and, not surprisingly, Seymour had taken a liking to her. But this was the Great Depression, times were tough, and Seymour had landed a job for the summer as a busboy in New Jersey. As he would not have the means or a car to return to Philadelphia during the summer, he hoped Marty could keep an eye on Gert while Seymour was away.

Marty, whose back is to the camera in the above photograph, was nothing if not a young man of his word, so he was most happy to oblige. And keep an eye on her he did. By the time Seymour returned at summer’s end, Marty confessed that he and Gertrude had fallen in love. Six years later, they were married; it is a bond that has lasted sixty-eight years and counting.

When Seymour told this story a few weeks ago at Gertrude’s 90th birthday celebration, he acknowledged his disappointment at the course of events. “But,” he said, “If someone was going to steal away my girl, at least it should be my best friend.” As Seymour quipped, “There is nothing I wouldn’t do for Marty, and nothing Marty wouldn’t do for me. And we’ve spent our whole lives doing nothing for each other.” Seymour proudly noted that, seven decades later, he, Marty, and Gertrude remain the best of friends. But as for Marty, Seymour added with a twinkle, “I never did trust the son-of-a-bitch.”

* * * *

“Life is like a blanket too short,” wrote Marion Howard. “You pull it up and your toes rebel, you yank it down and shivers meander about your shoulder; but cheerful folks manage to draw their knees up and pass a very comfortable night.” The most amazing thing about Gertrude is her upbeat and positive manner. It is a cheeriness that defies logic once you know something of her young life. Born in 1922 to a tailor’s family in Philadelphia, Gertrude was five years old when her mother was hospitalized. It was a tragic story, one that Gertrude would only piece together in later years, with the benefit of time and distance; a story of conflict and disharmony. But for a young child in need of a mother’s love, it could only have been confusing and frightening.

A year later, Gertrude’s father, a lifelong smoker, developed lung cancer, became very ill and was hospitalized. Gertrude, now six and essentially parentless, was sent to live with relatives, a family of modest means with many mouths to feed. It would be only a temporary home. The last time Gertrude saw her father was towards the end of 1929, close to her seventh birthday. She remembers the year because only a few months earlier the stock market crashed, plunging the country into the Great Depression. Her father, who remained sick in bed, died not long after.

Parentless at the age of seven, Gertrude was eventually placed in foster care, cared for by the Association of Jewish Children of Philadelphia. She moved from home-to-home, five in all, some better and more caring than others. She remained a foster child until the age of 16, when she moved in with her oldest brother, Jack, and his wife, Fritzie. Although she saw her mother once at the age of 13 and sporadically thereafter, the visits were often difficult and unsatisfying. It was not a sheltered, pampered, or privileged life. Life was hard. But through it all, Gertrude never lost her sense of optimism. She has said that once, around the age of ten and feeling sorry for herself, she came to the realization that her destiny was in her hands. “And then I stopped crying and got on with my life.”

In 1940, two years after she met Marty, Gertrude graduated from Olney High School. But most girls in those days didn’t attend college, so she went to work, earning ten dollars a week at J. Schwartz & Company, a furniture store on Germantown Avenue. She and Marty would later become engaged, but when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Marty went off to war. Gertrude landed a job at the Frankford Arsenal, delivering mail and doing administrative tasks for the Small Arms Department, Mail and Records. Perhaps it was there that Gertrude developed the philosophy that has served her well all these years. “Smile at people and they will smile back.” “Laugh a lot – at how ridiculous life is. It helps you get through a lot of the hurt.” “Above all else, do no harm.”

A weaker person may have lost hope and become bitter at life’s offerings, but Gertrude never lost her positive outlook and always treated people with friendliness and kindness. Although she is not a deeply religious person, deep down, I believe, she has a faith, in God or the human spirit, which helps her get through difficult times. She could not have helped but wonder every day whether a telegram would arrive informing her that Marty had been killed in action, news that would afflict hundreds of thousands of wives and girlfriends, mothers and fathers, throughout that deadly war. But Gertrude never lost hope and, by the summer of 1944, Marty had completed his 50 missions and returned home. They were married three days later.

Over the next several years, Gertrude gave birth to three children and took care of the household while Marty worked days and attended graduate school at night. An intelligent and intellectually engaged woman, in later years Gertrude would go back to school, first at Montgomery County Community College, and later, Beaver College (now Arcadia University) in Glenside, Pennsylvania, receiving her bachelor’s degree in 1982 at the youthful age of 59. She even found time to take care of stray animals, including an injured baby squirrel that had fallen from its nest. Whenever her children complained, she would have none of it. All of them recognized, as adults, just how right she was. They knew that their mother was the foundation of her family, a rock of stability, and the strength of the Gelman clan.

[T]he powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse. ~Walt Whitman, "O Me! O Life!", Leaves of Grass
I know less of Marty’s childhood years, except that they were happier and more stable, the perfect antidote to Gertrude’s young life. Marty was the son of Jacob Gelman, a printer who owned a shop on Cherry Street in Philadelphia, next door to Kelly for Brickwork, owned by the father of Grace Kelly. Gelman’s Sign and Printing was a family affair, co-founded by Jacob and his two brothers, with family members performing all of the tasks needed to run and operate the business.

Marty was a smart, street-wise kid with an intellectual bent. As an eleven year-old boy in 1932, when the Japanese invaded Manchuria, he sensed that another world war was on the horizon. His parents did not discuss current affairs, but Marty paid close attention. By the time he met Gertrude in the late 1930’s, he was very aware of world events and followed the political rise and growing power of Hitler with great trepidation. Then, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the whole world changed. Marty was 20 years old. Like many young men at the time, my uncle Ted (my Dad’s oldest brother) included, he enlisted. Life would never be the same again.

Years later, Marty would describe the heavy cloud that hovered above as he left for training camp, a burden he now recognizes as “sadness, numbness”. He worried that he would not measure up as a man and wondered how, as a Jewish kid from Philadelphia, he would be perceived and accepted by the gentiles, particularly in a war that he knew would have a profound impact on Jews. Like most of the young men he was about to meet, he was “frightened, distraught, filled with despair.” Soon he would realize that, from the vantage point of a scared soldier, religion and ethnicity and differences mattered not at all. All were Americans fighting for freedom and peace.

He was stationed in Italy and served as lead navigator in the 15th Air Force, 450th Bombardment Group, which flew B-24 Liberators. Now considered a member of the Greatest Generation, he scoffs at such a notion. “Each day I awoke with terror of not wondering if I would die, but how I would die,” he said during an interview in the fall of 2007. “Each day that passed was just a postponement of tomorrow’s execution.” He loved receiving mail but found it difficult to write home. “What was there to say when you know that tomorrow you will have to die. To this day, I don’t understand how it turned out otherwise.”

Through the grace of God and the fortunes of fate, Marty made it through the war, surviving 50 missions over enemy occupied Europe, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and countless medals and honors. His crew survived three forced landings in the mountains of Corsica, but in the end, he was the only one that made it back unscathed. His last mission, the 50th, was aborted three times before his crew was granted a three-day reprieve for some R&R in Bari, off the coast of the Adriatic Sea. But Marty was impatient and ready to go home. He could not tolerate the delay, so he volunteered for another mission, with another crew. An angel must have watched over him that day. “I caught a break,” he recalled years later. “It was a milk run. There was no flak, there were no fighters.” With 50 missions completed, he could now go home. His return was bittersweet; perhaps it was fate, or just plain dumb luck, but on the very next mission flown by Marty’s assigned crew, the plane was shot down. The crew members who survived became prisoners of war. As Gertrude later recalled, “Marty’s bewilderment at the bizarre manipulation of fate . . . left him numb.”

“The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time,” wrote Eudora Welty, “but in their significance to ourselves, they find their own order ... the continuous thread of revelation.” It took fourteen long days for Marty to get back to the shores of the United States (by ship) and, as no one in his family knew precisely when he was to arrive, when Marty reached his parents’ house in Philadelphia, no one was home. He got on the phone and called Gertrude, who came over right away. His family had gone to Atlantic City for the day, but when they learned of Marty’s arrival, they rushed home. That night, Marty and Gertrude made plans to marry and, three days later, they were husband and wife. The rest is history. Three wonderful, accomplished children, four beautiful grandchildren, and a life of love and fulfillment.

While working at the family print shop, Marty attended Temple University at night and eventually earned two Ph.D.’s (Anthropology and Psychology). He began a successful clinical practice and taught for 45 years at Montgomery County Community College, where he was one of its first professors in 1964, and where he molded and impressed the minds of thousands of grateful students. Never having forgotten the unheralded protection that the Tuskegee Airmen had provided his B-24 crew during the war, and sensitive to the slights caused by discrimination and prejudice, Marty, as head of the Social Sciences Department, was instrumental in hiring the college's first African American professor. He also mentored and supported the African American Student League, for which he was given special recognition at a 2008 Martin Luther King Day celebration, the only white professor in the college’s history so recognized.

In looking back on his time at war, on the death and destruction that was a part of everyday life for young men in their late teens and early twenties, Marty has recalled that it took more than 30 years before he could resurrect the pain and heartache he experienced in combat. It is a pain that “has made it difficult for me to cry about loss or to fully face life head on.” He dismisses the notion that war makes a man out of you. “War makes a man out of no one,” he insists. “The best it does is rip away the filter of illusion and scald you with the reality of the baseness of human existence. It’s a waste. The military isn’t cruel, it just doesn’t give a damn.”

Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light. – Albert Schweitzer
I have only known Martin and Gertrude Gelman for ten years or so, but my life has been greatly enriched because of it. As with my own parents, it is hard to imagine two people better suited for each other. They are generous to a fault, love their children unconditionally, and continue to look at the world and the human race with a healthy dose of humor. “We are a rotten species,” Marty often jokes. But their love of America is unrivaled and their appreciation for a good book, a good lecture, sage advice, and a young child’s smile is readily apparent. Good conversationalists, you can always anticipate a lively debate, or a story or two, when eating dinner with the Gelmans. Gertrude remains the optimistic, upbeat one; perhaps from a deep-seated recognition of the deprivations of the human spirit and weakness of human character, Marty remains the realist.

“God asks no man whether he will accept life,” wrote Henry Ward Beecher. “That is not the choice. You must take it. The only question is how.” Martin and Gertrude Gelman are the rare breed of human beings who have accepted life’s many challenges and risen above them without complaint. We choose our own destiny in life and must make the most of it. Erma Bombeck once said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’” Here is to Marty and Gertrude, an extraordinary couple who gave life everything they had. The world needs more people like them.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Gather Ye Rosebuds

I was a few weeks shy of my fifteenth birthday when this photograph was taken in the spring of 1974. A first baseman/pitcher for the Hightstown Rams Freshman Baseball team, I am the first person on the left, kneeling in the front row, the serious looking one with the black batting gloves and blue-and-white wristbands – pretty cool, huh? As a motley bunch of adolescent males adorned in faded and used, mismatched uniforms, we were a low budget operation from an undistinguished school district. We were not the Greatest Generation or the most talented group of ballplayers that ever existed, but we were young, full of energy, and serious about our craft. At that moment in time, we did not yet realize that our dreams were unrealistic, that our lives in baseball would essentially end a few years hence. But for a few hours every day in the spring of ‘74, we were a team.

“I see great things in baseball,” said Walt Whitman. “It's our game - the American game.” Baseball is a part of the American landscape, an essential component of our history. Whenever I fly to another city, I try for a window seat so I can look down on the vast countryside below as the plane begins its descent. It helps me appreciate the beauty and majesty that is America, the diversity of our geography and the expanse of our physical environment. But the one common denominator in every city and town I visit, the one thing that links us as a culture and a people, are the many baseball fields and ballparks that blend into the earth’s surface. Not all ball fields are equal, to be sure. A few have perfectly manicured grass fields and well-defined fences, fancy dugouts and lights; many others show signs of neglect, a blotchy mixture of dirt and brown grass and paint-chipped benches. But the dimensions remain constant, the bases ninety feet apart, the pitcher’s mound sixty feet six inches from home plate. The sights and sounds, the smell of grass and dirt and some guy named Frank smoking a cigar on the sidelines can be found at almost every park. It is a game for romantics; the dreams imagined and experienced on these fields are the same that young boys across America (and Latin America) have experienced for more than a century.

I grew up in central New Jersey, the cultural wasteland which influenced the early music of Bruce Springsteen, who grew up fifteen minutes away in Freehold. Hightstown was but an exit on the New Jersey Turnpike (Exit 8), a way station for commuters, a mere afterthought that lingered in the shadows of the great cities to our north and south. My brother Steve and I developed our fielding skills by hitting ground balls to each other, over and over again, in our backyard, a quarter-of-an-acre of converted farmland that had been turned into the housing developments you find in middle-class communities all across the United States. Every third house looks just like the other, distinguished only by the color of the shingles, a hint of brickwork, or the placement of trees and bushes in the front yard. On warm days could be heard the hum of a lawnmower or the rhythm of children riding bicycles. There was little to do in Hightstown, no art museums or great universities, no historical landmarks. It was an all-American town of pizza parlors and hoagie shops, gas stations and convenience stores.

But I never felt at a loss for something to do. My life was sports, my love was baseball. My friends and I played touch football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball all spring and summer. Unless I was sick or a severe Nor’easter was underway, not a day went by that I didn’t have a ball of some kind in my hand. Whether tossing a football at the neighborhood park, shooting hoops in my driveway (the backboard and net at regulation height above our garage), playing groundball games or sock ball with my brother, or throwing a baseball against pitch back netting in my backyard, thoughts of big league glory filled my head, the imaginary crowds erupting upon my every display of choreographed heroics.

There comes a time in life when you must outgrow childhood dreams, when your ambitions must shift to more practical, important, and socially useful endeavors. When, finally, in the words of John Thorn, “the dream of playing big-time baseball is relinquished so we can get on with grown-up things.”

Nearly four decades has passed since that freshman season, but I still remember the final game of the spring. In four trips to the plate, I had hit the ball hard every time with only one double to show for it. In my last two at bats I laced long, arcing fly balls into deep left field. Unfortunately, the leftfielder was standing somewhere in Pennsylvania (we had no fences) and he tracked both fly balls, catching each of them just after I had rounded first base and headed to second. Our coach, Charlie Pesce (standing at the far right in the back row, next to the statistician), a stern but fair man who expected much and demanded more, an authority figure I respected and admired, came up to me after that game as I stood by my locker. He was much shorter than I, but it did not detract from his authoritative air. He reached out his hand and said, “Congratulations on a good season. You have a future, son.” He could not have known how much those words meant to me at the time, or how much they would hurt a few years later when I abandoned my dream of playing professional baseball.

"Time is a very misleading thing,” said George Harrison. “We can gain experience from the past, but we can't relive it.” I would play only three more seasons of organized baseball, some Senior Babe Ruth League, varsity high school and American Legion ball, until I accepted, finally, that baseball was not a career option. My eyesight betrayed me and I had yet to discover contact lenses; I began to swing late on pitches and possibly lacked the mental toughness to reach a higher level. I became distracted by the noise of life, or maybe I didn’t need baseball as much as I thought I did. I have few regrets about where life has led me. But when, as I occasionally do, I wander over to a high school ballgame and take in an inning or two under the twilight sun, I cannot help but think back and relive those moments, now frozen in time, when I was a young man with a glove on my knee, legs slightly bent, shouting encouragement to the pitcher in anticipation of the next pitch and the batter's reaction. It is at those moments, even today, when I wonder if I could have done better, achieved more, and turned the hopes and dreams of that wrist-band wearing teenager into reality.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” I have tried to live my life with this in mind. But there is a part of me that never left the scrappy, bumpy, low budget ball fields of my youth. To this day, there is something soothing and certain about baseball, which is partly why I cannot escape its absorbing pull. Baseball is one of the few constants in a disorderly world. “If you get three strikes,” said Bill Veeck, “even the best lawyer in the world can't get you off.” There is a comfort to such order, to knowing that, at the end of each season, the outcome is fair, the results a close approximation of individual and team accomplishment.

I do not know where most of my freshman teammates are today. Many of them played with me at more senior levels, but the year I left for college, my family moved to New England. I don’t know how many of my teammates attended college, got married, divorced, or had families of their own. I cannot tell you today where most of them live or even how many are still alive (though sadly, Bobby Spearman, the lone African American on that team, and one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet, died a few years ago, just past his 50th birthday). I was not friends with all of the young men in that freshman baseball picture. Hell, I didn’t even like all of them. But when I look back on this picture, I am filled with a sense of compassion and admiration for every one of them.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime
You may for ever tarry.
--Robert Herrick