Thursday, July 23, 2020

It's Opening Day: Baseball and Your Spiritual Life

The first thing I learned about baseball is this: If you raise your hand a man will bring you food. I learned this at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, and in my first year as a fan I spent most of the game facing the wrong way. Raise my hand, get ice cream, raise my hand, get popcorn, raise my hand, get peanuts.  

It was 1958. 

Two years later I understood baseball was a game.  On summer afternoons I’d beg my brothers to take me with them to the ball park. I was falling in love with baseball.

If baseball has taken hold of you too, you know it’s about more than your team winning.  Sports, like religion, and like AA, offers consolations: A diversion from our daily routine, heroic examples to admire and emulate and a sense of drama and conflict in which nobody dies. 

John Gregory Dunne wrote that, “Baseball is the couch on which we examine our psyches”. George Will said, “Baseball is the universe”. And catcher Wes Westrum said, “Baseball is like church, many attend but few understand.”

We have these sayings and many more because baseball is one of the greatest sources of metaphor in American life. And understanding metaphor is important because having and using metaphor is what allows us to talk about intangibles like spiritual life.

The historian, E.H. Gombrich, wrote, “Every culture has its favored sources of metaphor which facilitate communication among its members. Any cultures religion is what provides the central area of metaphor.  The Olympus or Heaven of any nation will offer language and symbols of power and compassion, of good and evil, of menace and of consolation”.

Americans live so far inside the institution of baseball and so deeply in its metaphors that sometimes we can’t even see it.  You may say you’re not a sports fan, but have you ever said: “She’s always in there pitching”. “You can’t even get to first base with him.” He’s out in left field.” “She was born with two strikes against her.”  We talk baseball all day long. 

Bart Giamatti, former President of Yale and former Commissioner of Baseball said, “Baseball has no clock and indeed moves counterclockwise, so anxious is it to establish its own rhythms independent of clock time.”

Baseball is one of the few sports that remain timeless. A game can be fast or slow. In this one area of our lives the clock isn’t driving; we surrender the clock to the event.  But there is something else in this game that asserts the primordial and the spiritual: In baseball we begin and end at home.  Home plate is not fourth base. The goal of the game is to get home and to be safe. 

That is what we want. When we come to AA people say, “I felt safe and I was at home for the first time”. Home implies safety, accessibility, freedom, comfort. Home is where we learn to be both with others and separate.  That’s what baseball players are: individual athletes with distinct areas of responsibility but also and always a team. Kind of like a home group.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Codependence Can Kill You

Codependence can kill you. Being nice can kill you. Not wanting to upset someone can kill you. And, by being a very nice person you can kill someone you love. Now more than ever. 

We know about the drunk at the party.  We know that we should take the keys away. We know the painful awkwardness of that confrontation. But now we have another –possibly more painful—variation on “Codependence Kills.”

We are living through COVID-19
 and the Coronavirus pandemic. 

There are safety protocols

There are rules 

But it’s been so long—since March 11th --for most of us. 

And finally it’s summer and we want to go out and have parties and picnics. 

All those June and July and August weddings were planned so long ago, and the deposits were paid. 

All those graduation celebrations and family reunions. That’s a lot of family and friendship catching up to miss, and to ask our loved ones to miss. 

And you, like me, have friends at each point on the precautions continuum: from not leaving the house at all, to going out carefully and in masks, sanitizer at the ready, and all the way to “I’m sick of this”/It’s God’s Will/ “I’m young and healthy”/ to “This is all a big conspiracy”. 

And the people at each point on this continuum are people you like and care about.

So when you get invited to the backyard, socially-distanced dinner, or the inside the house dining room pot-luck, or the wedding in a crowded ballroom, or the picnic at the beach smashing crabs around small tables—what will you do?

Couples may say, “our practices are these” but what if spouses don’t agree? Maybe you tend to the safer, stricter side, but she says, “Oh, come on—it’s my sister, we’re safe”.

Remember years ago when we had to call the parents of our young kid’s friends and uncomfortably ask, “Are there any guns in your home?” Now  we need to ask our friends and relatives if they have been practicing safe COVID protocols. 

And if they have been going out or traveling—did they quarantine when they crossed the state line? And how do we feel about whatever their answer is? 

Example: If I am going to someone’s home can I say, “I prefer that we all wear masks” or  “I’m happy to sit in your backyard but not in your living room.”

Example: Everyone is going out to dinner at a restaurant that has advertised their careful COVID precautions of social distancing, and they have sanitation and plastic flatware. 

But something is nagging at you. Can you say, “I’m OK with take-out but not dining in”. 

Example: Will you say no to a hug when your friend rolls her eyes and says “Oh, come on!” 

Are you able to support your own choices and preferences? Can you withstand the pressure of others? 

Those of us who grew up in families where there was addiction or emotional dysfunction probably need to take a long time to sort out our own feelings. We didn’t have support in developing healthy boundaries. 

Our first instinct will be to doubt ourselves. People pleasers are likely to put their lives, and lives of loved ones, at risk, rather than be seen as “silly” “cautious” or “a problem.”

Social life during COVID and quarantine is going to be one of the biggest tests of your codependency and boundaries. 

Is your safety negotiable? Are your boundaries negotiable? 

What does self-care mean this year?