Today, on my morning prayer walk, I noticed that my right knee hurt a bit. It felt like I’d twisted it slightly, not so badly I could’t keep walking but enough that I noticed and reviewed yesterday’s activity. Oh, yeah. Corin and I were playing baseball in our backyard last evening.
Not full baseball, of course. I got him a wooden bat for his birthday and, to my glee, he loves it. He’d only used metal ones before. I wanted him to hear the crack of the bat. Last night, he wanted to bunt the ball with his new bat…in the living room. “Just pitch me one, Dad!”…while in easy bunting distance of roughly 700 breakable objects. With Kim sitting there watching.
Thus, this morning, as I was walking a bit tenderly and favoring that knee, I considered our activity the night before, which was basically a game of pepper: one of us pitching underhand from ten feet, the other either bunting or taking light swings. The pitcher had to react and spear grounders, line drives, and pop-ups. Lots of lunging, a few turn-and-run-three-steps-to-catch-it coming-over-your-head. It took some quick reflexes and lasted until my (very poor) night vision threatened to get me a ball in the nose. Corin loved it and was surprised how much effort it took. We were both panting and sweating when we came inside.
Yes, I did breathe in the moment and appreciate how fortunate I am.
But this morning, I had a different thought. No, not Grumpy Old Man with Sore Knee. When my mind clicked on our game, for some reason it also offered, “Fifty-two,” as in,”You’re fifty-two, Mike, and you’re doing well to jump into a game of pepper and still be able to walk the next morning.” But I often think about how old I am, because being active at fifty-two, at least for me, means not forgetting and also having to work harder to keep making that possible.
No, the different thought was, “How was Dad at 52?” I don’t know why that question came to me. It took me a minute–6AM, remember–to do the math and then figure out his…
Fifty-two was the worst. Dad died in 1998, at age sixty-eight. Sixteen years earlier, then, he was fifty-two. Dad took early retirement at fifty-two or fifty-three, after the 1983-84 school year. He had taught for thirty years already. I know that was his final year of teaching because it was A)the year after I had him in school, B)the year he would come home from school, collapse into his chair still wearing his heavy coat and boots, and gasp for breath. He seemed to do that every day.
Dad had been athletic. He reached a higher level of competition than I ever have, running track at Northern Illinois University and competing at big invitational meets.* He was a strong runner and intensely competitive. I mean, competitive about everything. When I was younger, nine and ten, he would hit me ground balls for hours so I could practice at shortstop. I remember standing out in the sun, waiting for his coughing spell to pass so he could hit some more. He pitched me untold hours of batting practice. I’ve described those outings as his expression of love for me. He knew I was never going to play shortstop for the New York Yankees. He gave me that time–and God knows how much energy–when he felt so lousy.
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Corin just walked through the door after riding his bike home from school and suggested we go play baseball during his lunch break. I’ll conclude this here. I trust you see where I was going.
I’m glad, grateful beyond words, that I can still run around and play with my son. I’m an older dad. I’ve committed to staying healthy and active, but that isn’t always our choice. Dad first got sick at forty-three. I was six. He improved from that horrible year when he was fifty-two, but he still had that lung disease the rest of his (shortened) life. I thought about it when I turned forty-three. I know it doesn’t only happen to someone else.
So thank you, God, for today.
PS Fortunately, one of our dogs started wretching at 4AM, and I coulnd’t get back to sleep, so I had plenty of writing time by the time Corin came home at noon. Neither dog had thrown up. When we turned the light on to clean it up, they both looked at us like “Why did you do that?”
PPS When you ask your fourteen-year-old son for a picture of him with his bat, of course he’ll comply–and swing it at you. I was quite pleased to have captured the moment with the bat inches away.
*I think intercollegiate track is considered higher than making regionals for ultimate. But I’m open to counter-arguments.