In the Art of War, Sun Tzu describes that an enemy is not easily defeated by surrounding them completely. One must present their adversary with an apparent way out of danger, and there lies your trap. It is for this very reason that 0-2 is not the most difficult count for a hitter, it’s 1-2. At 0-2 a pitcher is never supposed to throw a hittable pitch. At 1-2, you’re backed into a corner. The pitcher has already wasted something offspeed to show you the wrong part of the outside corner. They could easily do it again, you have that to worry about. Their full arsenal is available; the pitcher has their entire repertoire at hand. The enemy has the green light. You are a boat stranded upon the ocean and the storm is swirling around you. The waves, taller than the mast, they are coming. But in your hand, you have an oar. Down 1-2, a hitter is up against the odds. Yet the odds always allow for two outcomes.
When I was six years old, for whatever reason, my parent’s had mostly childless friends. As an only-child myself, I was often the one kid at parties full of 30 and 40-something’s and my dad let me drink a finger of wine whenever he found it fitting. I hated it, but it seemed en-vogue and it’s what adults did when they got together. At six years old, I turned to him in a moment I distinctly remember and told him, “I want to be a winemaker.” I’d heard him say that word, “winemaker”, before and Dad and one his best friends often discussed making wine in the garage. There was no knowledge of what the job entailed, simply that it appeared to provide pleasure and a space for friendships. In that instant his response to me was plain, facetious, honest, “Then you better get your Masters from UC Davis.” It was a joke. I had no idea what that meant. What that would cost of me. It stuck.
My senior year of college I was all over the place. I applied to seventeen law schools, and three schools for enology and viticulture (the sciences of winemaking and grape-growing, respectively). By early April I had replies from 19 schools. UC Davis was the one missing, and I simply figured that I messed up my application. It had been several weeks since I had heard from my second-to-last school. Yet on a Sunday morning at 8AM, Central Time, an email was waiting for me from UCD – “Your Application Decision”. It took me ten minutes to summon the courage to open it.
“Attached is your Admissions Decision”
Another few minutes to gather myself and open the attached document of which I read only the first word, “Congratulations…”
It’s 6AM in Seattle but I call my mother with the biggest news I’ve ever received and been able to deliver in my young life. A goal fifteen years in the making achieved, all my roommates awake from my monstrous victory yell, she answers the phone.
“Mom, guess what.”
“I got into Davis.”
A brief pause. I’m ecstatically waiting her unbridled joy. A response I’ve been waiting for since almost before my memory can reach.
“How are you gonna pay for that?”
I wasn’t raised in a house that dwindled long on accomplishment. Victories were briefly celebrated, if at all. They were simply treated as fuel for the next fire to burn. I was taught from a very young age that without stoking your own furnace, you will one day go cold and void. It sounds like a harsh way to live, but it’s an honest one. It’s about being able to inspire yourself. You have achieved this mountain top, now what about the next? It’s about a willingness to fail in hope that the next valley is more shallow than the one before. It’s about resiliency. Teaching this is a dear, dear form of love. Because in this life, well, more times than not, you’re gonna take a step out of the box, catch your breath, adjust the gloves, and stare out at the mound, down 1-2.
Every at-bat has a certain scheme and rhythm before the music starts. A routine before even stepping into the batter’s box, a certain way you tap the bat to the plate. There is always this plan. It’s not even learned, it’s within you at birth. You reached out and grabbed this plan, these habits, so very long ago from the stardust surrounding your soul before you become matter. But plans mean nothing when the bullets start flying. As you step into the box, settle yourself and free your mind, the pitcher comes set.
It’s a grooved fastball. Middle-away, full extension of the hands is easier here, clearly a mistake. You swing as hard as you possibly can while trying to keep your head in. You can already feel the effortless crack of the ball hitting the sweet heart of maple, the ball over the fence, the cheering crowd, the slow, purposeful arc and crisp final one-hundred feet of a bundle of leather and string defying all given physical expectations. The ball instead is fouled straight back.
You missed your shot.
I was once asked where the richest place on Earth is. Sensing a trap within the question, or some sort of riddle, I thought about mineral wealth of nations. What laid buried beneath. Papa New Guinea was my first thought. I was on the right track, but miles away from the wanted answer.
“The richest place on Earth is the graveyard.”
There lies the songs never sung, the letters never written, the stories gone to bed too soon. There lies love lost, the regret of silence, the eternal question of what happens when you leave something behind. The answer? Nothing. Nothing happens because the spark was never given a chance to light fuel. The question isn’t what happens when you leave something behind. It’s what didn’t happen. And we’ll never know. It’s a heavy-handed metaphor, sure, but the sentiment is a true one. A lot of people die full. Full of their talent, full of their ability, their skills. They never used it because they were scared to take a risk. You have to shoot your shot.
Sometimes, you miss. You still have a strike to give.
The pitcher is set again. Down 0-1 you’re still very much in this at bat. Gloves properly adjusted, the pitch arrives, another mistake, but this one too far off the plate to even give a chance. The pitch darts away and into the dirt. Ball one. Some decisions are so easy they seem almost to be made for you. Some forks in the road have a very clear choice. The count is 1-1. You’re back on track. You step out of the box to mentally check the plan.
A deep breath and a return to the inside of the chalk lines, the next pitch is delivered. It’s coming inside and tight.
I am sitting with her as she attempts to talk her sister out of suicide on the phone. My room is eerily quiet. I’m holding her hand. It’s the only thing I can feel in the darkness of the space.
I am sitting next to a man in a ditch. He is dying. My arm is around him as I give him water and wash his wounds. “You’ll be okay. We’re here with you.”
I am standing in a bar as her last beer turns into the story of how she was beat as a child. Her tears are warm against me as I hold her while the music drowns out the rest of the world. The warmth of her pain made physical is all I feel.
I am sitting on her bed when she tells me she is going to marry another man.
My phone rings, an old friend. I take a walk to answer the call, expecting to catch up during a warm, Summer’s evening. She has other news. Dave died this morning.
I am sitting on her bed as her PTSD returns. She can’t be touched in this moment. I ask if it’s better for her if I stay or leave. She asks me to stay. I sit at the foot of the bed, quiet.
I am driving my car when she starts to cry. She heard first the news of my grandmother passing. It strikes her too close to home. I hold her hand. It’s a Sunday morning and we have a tradition of getting breakfast. In this instance and all the others, I have no words. I am a passenger. I am not enough. They are, though.
All these people will leave me, in one way or another. In that leaving they will take with them a piece of myself. Not out of malice, but out of necessity. It’s not even a conscious act. It is what we all do when a body catch a body coming through the rye. In those moments there was deep love, but deep inadequacy, too. I was measured too light. I didn’t recognize the pitch.
The ball curls wordlessly away from your body and into the zone. The movement deceptive. You were simply a passenger, the bat still on your shoulder. You never saw it coming.
So there you stand, two feet out of the batter’s box and in a hole. There you stand with no strikes to give. No room for error, pieces of you gone, and at the will of an enemy who has you backed into a corner. The waves are rising, your vessel looking smaller and smaller against them. In this moment, as in every moment, you have a choice. You can wait and hope, or fight. It won’t be easy. I wish I could tell you it gets easier, but it doesn’t. You have to find something inside yourself. You aren’t in the graveyard yet. You still have an oar. Start paddling. Put Fate, Circumstance, whatever form of free-will you believe in, into your own hands. Go down swinging.
The pitcher comes set again.
It is not the things we do in life that we regret on our deathbed, but the things we do not.
Swing if it’s close.