While driving by a local high school, I spotted the kid.
He was skinny, all legs and arms, and all by himself between right and center field. At that moment, most of his teammates were clustered near the first base line. Maybe he hadn’t heard there was a team gathering, or maybe he was an outfielder and the gathering was for infielders.
He tossed his glove up and down. Bored? Blissful?
Even after looking at a bunch of kids in baseball uniforms, out for late afternoon practice on a cool spring day, I couldn’t tell you what colors the uniforms were. Were they the high school’s colors? Or was his team part of a city league?
I wasn’t sure.
He was just a kid.
In this unsettling world of zero tolerance toward weapons on campuses, and drugs, more Trumpian executive orders, and surveys declaring the percentage of junior high students with STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), it’s hard to be a kid. It’s hard to just have fun. And don’t most parents live with an edge of fear these days? All kids, with their cluttered schedules and competition for the best grade-point-average-ticket to college, stagger under the weight of frantic activity and family expectations.
I hoped that kid was happy as he watched the leather glove rise into the sky and then drop back into his hands.
A ball, bat, and glove invite back long-ago memories. Dad hit fly balls to me after he came home from work. Now I know, in my mid-sixties (and getting way too much mail about Medicare benefits), how tired persons can be when they finally make it home at night. But there my father was, a bat gripped in his hand, smacking grounders and lofting Texas leaguers towards me as darkness fell.
Or there’s another memory of me racing to junior high an hour before school began to play baseball with a bunch of other guys. Who cared if you were sweaty and grass-stained for your classes? Let’s just have fun, early and often!
I played centerfield. Maybe that’s what I thought about when I noticed that scrawny kid in the schoolyard. Being out there in center, the last defense of nine players facing a ball smokin’ off a hunk of Louisville lumber. Infielders are frantic, always making split-second decisions. Outfielders wait and wonder, contemplating the grass and analyzing the wind. And then—crack!—a spinning, soaring ball is bat-launched and sky-bound. The long run begins, tracking glory, with a leather glove extended. Legs churning, you lose yourself in the hope of the catch. Ain’t life grand!
I watched his skinny-ness. I miss being a kid.
And yet I am a kid. Maybe that’s one of the most easily understood—and most difficult—parts of my faith, of trying to stumble after Jesus. Become child-like, Jesus famously said. A child of God; in other words, be a kid innocent enough and brash enough to always forgive, to always love, to always welcome the other.
In my deadline-demanding days and lists of endless to-dos, I still try to claim the value of being a kid.
I know how necessary it is to be in my backyard playing with my dog. Once, I took a spinning class. While I never fully grasped the rhythm of the wheel and the wool, those minutes carved out for “fun” were important. I know I’ll trek into the mountains this summer on a hike . . . and I’ll leave most of my technology (chirping phones and clock-eating computers and more) at home.
Pleasure. Fun. Tossing a leather glove into the air.
As an old ordained minister, I continue to believe God calls us to the serious, often frustrating, path toward creating a peaceable world. Alas, we still yell when we should listen. We roll our eyes when we should bow our heads. We are quick to criticize and far too slow to show mercy. On a regular basis, we struggle with mean-spirited and hateful confrontations. Every day has dull tasks and dreary troubles.
But please, don’t forget to play. We are children. You are. I am.
Have some fun this week.
I glanced back one more time. The kid had his glove on, ready to watch for a long fly ball coming his way.