Thirteen boys, and one girl, on the verge of being men, on the verge of being a woman.
“Hold your emotions inside, keep them to yourself.”
Because, remember: this is what the situation required.
It really did.
The umpire was terrible.
They were losing all night.
The strike zone inconsistent. Terribly small.
Every call nearly an atrocity.
The boys and girl threw strikes, inning after inning.
Pitch after pitch, no matter where it landed, the ump called it a ball.
“He’s human,” I told some of them in the dugout. “If you lash out, start screaming, complain,” I added. “It’ll only get worse.”
We eeked out the go-ahead run in the equivalent of the top of the ninth.
Carried a one run lead into the bottom of the inning.
We brought in our reliever.
He threw consistently in a zone where the batters could hit it.
Most were called balls; a few were called strikes.
As time neared the end (Little League games have a time limit), Beckett picked off the runner at third.
We walked off with a 9-8 win, stranding the bases loaded.
After the game, I told them, “Had you screamed at the umpire, told him what you really thought, we would’ve lost that game.”
But they didn’t.
And so we won.
And winning is what matters.
* * *
But what of this lesson? Keep silent in the face of atrocity?
It’s meant to promote sportsmanship. The umpire is always right. Accept the consequences; understand that your ability to get on base – or to get the batter out – is your responsibility.
Somehow, it takes on a new meaning in the wake of Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo phenomenon.
In the most stressful situations – sports, with outcomes on the line – we are teaching our children to be silent. We’re reinforcing that this is virtue; the ability to hold it in and move on in the face of adversity.
Magnify this over years of reinforcement.
Some people question why those wronged remain silent.
We’re shaped by things like this; our kids are shaped by things like this.
And the lines of where to remain silent; and where to speak out are insanely, outrageously blurred.
Respect the umpire in blue; but instantly report the person in charge?
Easier said than done.
How can you, when keeping silent means winning?
* * *
If you’re anything like me, the proliferation of #MeToo posts across social media has been a sort of cosmic blow to the chest.
You know that harassment, assault – or just general shitty behavior towards women is prevalent – but the fact that it pretty much appears to be every woman causes something akin to shell shock.
Because if you believe in math, probability, statistics, you have to start to wonder if you, too, are part of the problem.
And if you think about every thing you’ve ever said, and every thing you’ve ever done – in your best states – and in your worst – you have to start to wonder (accept) if (acknowledge) you’ve been a part of the problem.
Let me digress for a second.
We are woefully incapable of understanding how our actions and words affect those around us.
I recently told the story to a friend at lunch about how a family member I’d never really had contact with struggled with the fact that we didn’t have a relationship.
As she lie on her death bed, another family member encouraged me to visit. I didn’t want to go. I barely knew this person.
But I went. Held her hand in her final hours.
It was only then I came to understand that how she saw me – and our relationship – was very different than how I saw her.
Truth is, I’d never thought about things from her perspective. Never saw how my myopic, self-centered view ignored her reality.
It was an eye-opener; a reminder of how, regardless of our best intentions, what we think we’re doing isn’t often how it’s perceived by those affected by our actions.
My being there and holding her hand, my being exposed to my own incorrect perceptions changed the course of the history of not just this dying person, but those who loved her.
Only with knowledge I didn’t have, could I change the course of our collective history.
* * *
I can’t reconcile this mess.
Not with ease, anyway.
I’m certain I’m guilty.
Can start identifying instances; can see them in my head.
In some cases, I’ve already issued apologies – weeks ago, years ago. In some, I don’t know where to begin.
I’ve got a daughter, a wife, a mother. Countless women I hold in high regard.
The mainstream man in me wants to say, “What is the appropriate line, between flirtation and violation? Between a joke and a mistake?”
Maybe I’ve done it right; maybe I’ve done it all wrong.
I do know this, though.
I like that there’s dialogue. Admission. Confrontation.
A couple days ago, when the president issued his statement that, “We’ll say Merry Christmas again,” I responded to a family member who suggested this was a political lurch forward the following:
“I always liked saying Happy Holidays because I had no freakin’ clue what the background was of the customers at my family’s hardware store and it conveyed the idea that I genuinely, warmly wanted them to enjoy the holiday season and the spirit of it. I never got hung up one a single word. It wasn’t some PC thing. I was trying to be polite so they came back and shopped there again. I just thought it was a smart business decision.”
That was the thought process of the innocent, unjaded 10-year-old me.
Even then, I knew: our behavior should always take the feelings of the person we’re interacting with into account.
Rather than be callous in our righteousness, we should be aware of how all the things we say and do affect those we say and do them to.
And when – and if – we’ve done wrong, we should work to correct that problem.
But politics, experience, age and learned behaviors get in the way.
I’ve no doubt that some (most) of the stories my female friends think of when they post #MeToo are horrific in nature, perpetuated by men with no regard for their well-being.
But I bet a good many of them are perpetuated by men who think themselves progressive, well-intentioned individuals. (And perhaps a few by women, thinking the same thing, throwing these same things at men.)
So where do we go from here?
* * *
Lately, I’ve been able to step outside myself.
The early part of recovery seems to be focused on merely expressing one’s observations; on extracting the self-doubt by admitting the helplessness you feel.
The next phase is a sort of awakening.
Of suddenly seeing from the outside. Of suddenly realizing that your self-proclaimed unique misery/horror/sadness/fill-in-the-blank isn’t that unique at all.
The next step is accepting the recovery – the path to acceptance, and ultimately happiness – starts with you.
By changing behaviors. By committing to those changes. And then living them.
It’s a rocky road to be sure; marked by lurches forward and minor regressions.
But you know when you’re on the right path.
It feels different. If only because getting up is a little bit easier; your soul a little bit lighter.
* * *
I come back to these lessons we teach our kids.
How in our effort to be right, we can – so remarkably – be wrong.
Respect the man in blue? Respect the authority figure?
Black and white? Right and wrong?
Those things rarely exist. Except when they do.
There are nuances. And there are lines.
Some lines you don’t cross.
Like challenging the ump. Like belittling a woman. Like asserting your sexuality as if that’s your right.
We’ve got a long road ahead, though.
Marked by communication and self-reflection.
It starts with us who are ready.
To see that even the awoken are amazingly asleep.
Awareness spreads like a virus; perpetuated by those strong enough to cut through the ignorance.