Baseball, Brandon Lee, & Growing Up

He was hunched over at first: Not in his usual “down and ready” stance, but more of a “I might vomit all over the base” kind of way. He kept looking to me, eyes pleading, face scrunched up, left hand across his stomach. As the pitcher from the opposing team was warming up, Amber left the dugout to talk to our son. He wasn’t feeling good…felt like throwing up. Coach wandered over, carefully keeping “out of range”, and had Luke switch places with our center fielder. If he could hold on for one more out, we’d be off the field and up to bat. Thankfully, it came quickly and the team hustled off the field into the dugout.

As he trudged into the dugout, I pulled Luke aside and walked with him over to area of open field away from the baseball diamond. Tears started streaming down his face. “Dad, I don’t feel good!” He cried. “I want to go home!” I distinctly remember hearing the first complaint an hour earlier as we sat down for dinner, but assumed he was just hungry. Eat your dinner, you’ll probably feel better…right? All throughout warm-ups and into the first couple of innings, he seemed fine with no hint of intestinal distress.

“Ok buddy, we can go home.” I held him tightly and said a quick prayer, asking God to help him to feel better and (hopefully) not puke (especially in the van on the way home.) Out of fatherly instinct, I gingerly scooped all 66.8 pounds of him into my arms and started to carry him towards the dugout to say good-bye to Amber and his teammates. As he dried his wet cheeks on my shoulders, I asked him if he was feeling better. His reply:

“Yes dad….but you can put me down now…this is kinda embarrassing.”

Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.”  – Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

During and interview in the early 90’s, actor and martial artist Brandon Lee quoted the above passage in regards to talking about his role in the upcoming movie The Crow. The quote took on an infamous twist when Lee was accidentally shot while filming a scene from the movie. Tragically, he passed away from his injuries, a life cut down in its prime.

The night after the game, I laid in bed. The kids were asleep, Luke didn’t throw up, and after a shower, he actually said he felt good enough to go back to his game and play (alas, it ended shortly after we came home.) Like a dog with a bone, my mind gnawed on the Bowles quote in the context not only of my interaction with Luke earlier that day, but with my other two kids. How many more times will I get to wrap Luke up and hold him tight against my chest? Sneak into his room after he falls asleep, snuggle up in bed next to him and watch him peacefully dream? How many chances will I get to launch my girls up into the air, witness the unbridled joy and terror on their faces above me, and smile as they shout “AGAIN!” as they fall safely into my arms? It all seems limitless…except that its not.

As a child of divorce, I went to go live with my dad when I was roughly 13 years old. Some of my greatest memories I have of us bonding was over the numerous one on one basketball games we played. I remember after he’d whup up on me (in my mind, my dad was the Mexican version of Michael Jordan, complete with the unstoppable fadeaway), he’d often remark how much he enjoyed kicking my butt and that he didn’t take it for granted. “One day, you won’t want to play against your old man…you’ll have other things you want to do.” I’d laugh him off and thought in my head, “pssht…yeah right…Pops talkin’ trash again…I’ll always be down for a game of hoops.” My line of thinking, while having the best intentions, was immature and naive. School, job, friends, girlfriend, college…they all slowly gained steam. Our pick-up games went from just about every night after work to few and far between. Little did I know how true my dad’s words would come to pass.

It has been eight and a half years since our first child was born, and it seems like it was just yesterday we were taking him home from the hospital. Life especially sucks that way….when you’re young, you feel like time moves so slowly (“I can’t wait until I’m 16 and get a car!” “I can’t wait until I’m out of high school!”) and yet it feels like its moving at warp speed now. As the famous 1980’s philosopher Ferris Bueller once said,  “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I could rail against this cosmic injustice and complain about how unfair this all seems, but that doesn’t seem to be the best use of energy. Rather, I’m going to take comfort in the fact that from time to time, there will be tears that need to be dried off, bear hugs to give and receive, epic wrestling matches over imaginary pits of lava to be had, and basketball games that need to be played.

May we all love the people in our lives well and not take the time we have with them for granted.

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