My most vivid memory as a child, second only to sticking my finger in a light socket,
has to do with a blow to the head on a beautiful summer day. The Little League game had concluded and my team, the Cardinals (still my favorite baseball team, perhaps it was fate) were paying a well-earned visit to the concession stand. It was there in a Tombstone-esque showdown that we encountered our bitter rivals the Astros. I do not recall why we were rivals, or why we were bitter. I was 8 and had very little to be bitter over and yet all the same there was a sense of tension between us thicker than the hot dog chili quaking in crock pots behind the counter in the concession stand. Reason need not arrive, boys at that age will find a reason to stir up animosity for the sake of winning at sports.
This was a time in my life where I was learning and evolving a great deal. I had pursued, gained, and lost at least two relationships that, so I thought, had long term potential. I had felt the cold sting of rejection through a piece of notebook paper folded into that tell-tale rectangle that could either be carrying news of a meeting after the basketball game or the end of the road.
Do not pass go, do not collect $200, and please return the friendship bracelet.
I had grown to know the hard cold world this way, and at 8 I knew what it meant to be at odds with others. At least I thought so. It was so very hard to tell when you became completely and hopelessly distracted at the mention of the words “swimming” or “ice cream.”
My mother and father were park parents, meaning they were regular fixtures at my games and were known by the other park parents as members of their exclusive club. It was like church, honestly, if you see church as the only consistent place a determined group of people would gather at any one time in order to witness an event that would either lead to exhilaration and cheering or consternation and disappointment. The baseball field dealt its fire and brimstone messages with every ding of an aluminum bat and held Eucharist in every skinned knee sliding into third base. My parents were faithful members of that community.
If this was a worshiping community for my parents, my sister was the kid in the back of the church trying to be quiet during an overly long sermon. She was behind me in age by three years, and so her stage in life didn’t lend well to open-air social situations. She, like most five year olds, remained attached to our parents. On the other hand, baseball bored her like no other sport. She would have been far more content to watch a glass of cold water begin to condensate on a pulsating summer day than to be sentenced to witness even one out of a Little League contest. Perhaps even at her young age some wisdom had formed that revealed the horrid truth: boys aren’t as good at baseball as they think they are. In any case, she found other girls her age from the community and wandered with them throughout the playgrounds and prayed for rain to shorten this sentence for what crimes they did not know.
I turned to find an Astro standing near me, so having already secured my sugar high for the afternoon I decided to move to the side, off of the concrete pad and then leaned on the fence separating the upper level bleachers from a concrete basketball court and pavilion below. I watched them all with suspicion, those pompous Astros, believing their righteousness to be greater than that of the Cardinals, and I slowly backed into the fence. One of the enemy players turned to look at me and I dismissively glanced down at my shoes, only to notice the laces undone on my left shoe. Leaning on the fence with my right side, I lifted my left leg toward me to knot the strings.
What happened next simply happened, and it happened in a way that things with no redeeming value tend to happen. My weight leaning on the fence revealed that the chain link was secured at the top, welded and tethered to the top steel pole but not to the ground. Instead, the bottom was completely loose and as I leaned I went through the fence and down to the basketball court below. I landed headfirst. I heard a commotion, people scampering towards me and calling for my parents by their first names, but mostly I remember looking up into the sky. It was the kind of blue that had I known the term “computer generated” I would have applied it to that particular type of blue. I can’t say I felt any pain, at least not to my memory at this point, but I do remember being quite confused as to how I had found myself on the basketball court. How I had arrived on my back and more importantly whether or not any Astros had witnessed this grave sign of weakness. I looked down to realize my shoe was still wildly and completely untied. I suppose I was 0-2 at the plate that day.
My parents frantically applied ice to my skull as I sat in the front yard of my aunt and uncle’s house less than a block away from the ball diamond. We were close enough to hear the cheers of the games that had started long after ours had ended, and as I sat and held a Wonder bread bag filled with ice to my throbbing head I entertained a notion that to that point hadn’t had any room in my childlike mind. I could have died just now. It was only 6 feet, true, and people had fallen on their head from higher than that and lived to a ripe old age but there were some who had not. “Some” declared it a possibility, and I could have been one of “some” that day. I realized, though not completely but as a child realizes, that life itself was frail like a spider web in the early spring breeze. It did not require much to turn an exquisite work of art into a sticky mess. It was that day that I realized God had broken my fall, though I wouldn’t see Him in this episode of my life until further down the road.
It wasn’t a moment of theological significance, and it didn’t change any of my everyday habits. I can say that somewhat definitively (though memory is fickle in that as we get older and wiser it becomes less and less dependable) because I don’t remember any major changes. The swelling went down, my parents ebbed in their concern to a mild parental check-in here and there, but life as I knew it returned to life as I knew it. It was a scene, a scene with a definitive beginning and as far as I knew a definitive end.
But really, do you ever end a scene that includes the dreaded Astros and a blow to the head with anything other than the presence of God Himself?