catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 4 :: 2009.02.13 — 2009.02.27


Love in the time of softball

I played softball for nine years, from the time I was seven, just old enough to join the town’s C league, until I was sixteen and had to learn to make hard decisions about my limited time.  It was a hobby pleasantly incongruous with my inclinations toward writing poetry, doing calligraphy and acting.  Though in junior high and high school, it almost always meant I was half insider, half outsider wherever I found myself-especially every January, when I would duck into musical rehearsals fresh from the batting cage, sweating and sore, ready to sing.

I remember one particular traveling team softball tournament in the Quad Cities right on the Mississippi River border between Iowa and Illinois.  All of my teammates and their accompanying family members were staying in Jumer’s Castle, a bizarre hotel in Bettendorf.  Perhaps it’s been renovated since then, but it felt quite like the set of the film High Spirits, a horror spoof played repeatedly on TNT during my formative years that takes place in Peter Plunkett’s haunted Irish castle.  The halls were deep scarlet, punctuated with medieval memorabilia, and in the room I shared with three other girls, thick velvet curtains cloaked window wells deep enough to sit in.  One evening, escaping the hormonal pack hunting the hallways for male prey, I settled into the window well with a few books and my journal.  But my perfumed roommates soon returned.

“What are you doing?”


Pause.  Then: “Why?  Are you in summer school?”

A light bulb went on, illuminating our differences, perhaps a bit too brightly.  “No, I just like to read.”  I decided to leave the light on and see what happened.

Fourteen years later, I’m surrounded by books.  I miss playing softball, but I didn’t play in college and haven’t pursued it since I quit the varsity team to serve as one of the editors-in-chief of my high school newspaper.  The other editor?  My then-boyfriend, now-husband, Rob.  Certainly that was a time of discerning among many loves, loves that would change my life.

Loving a hobby is different from loving a person, which is different from loving God.  And yet, all loves seem to share some important commonalities that teach us what it means to be human.  Loving teaches us that knowing is much more than a rational process.  Why do I love books?  Why do I love my husband?  I could make lists, elaborate on pros and cons and come to a reasonable conclusion that yes, I love Rob and books, and with sufficient justification.  But that process ignores the passion and mystery of love and doesn’t go far in explaining why we love even when it requires sacrifice, even when it just doesn’t “make sense.”  Knowing in a way akin to loving requires relationship and a certain contentment with gray, with things that can’t be put into words.

Loving also deepens in discipline, not in the sense of punishment, but in committed practice.  Sharing a bed with my husband, participating in the eucharist, reading each night before sleeping-these practices both express and reinforce my commitments.  Understanding the mysterious formative power of repetition beckons me to consider what other loves I cultivate through habit, but don’t confess to out of ignorance or shame.  We may be tempted to think of ourselves as undisciplined, but such thinking overemphasizes our conscious will to embody an abstract ideal and underemphasizes the way even our most unconscious repetitions shape and reinforce our identities.  If my primary identity is a consumer on the treadmill of economic progress, it’s ideal if I think I’m simply undisciplined while I absorb the disciplines of the status quo.  However, embracing my primary identity as a beloved child of God bears fruit in disciplines that embody my central love for God and neighbor, even when doing so doesn’t make sense, or costs more than it needs to, or results in a sense of social alienation.

Looking back on my softball years, I’m glad that somewhere along the way, I picked up the confidence to be okay hiding out in the window with a good book and wearing sliding shorts to drama rehearsal.  It’s been a transferrable skill.  Teenage years highlight the search for authentic love in all areas of our lives in such sharp relief, and many of us respond so dramatically that the struggle simply can’t be denied. 

The challenge beyond high school is to maintain an authentic search for embodied love even without the obvious microcosmic pressure of the cool kids or the race for identity.  We grown-ups tend to fall into routines and begin to think of ourselves as “boring.”  And yet to do so as people of the Word misses out on the ongoing, wondrous process of becoming who we are in Christ and figuring out what that identity means for all areas of our lives.  There are still so many important love-related decisions to be made.  Sometimes, even as adults, we may risk being unpopular or misunderstood, but maybe the more immediate risk for most of us is being complacently normal, without stopping to wrestle with whether the current standard for “normal” is good in a Kingdom-of-God sort of way.   Maybe the goal isn’t to fit in, but to get caught in the window well.  It might just present an opportunity to witness sincerely to the all-encompassing Love that calls us out of restless slumber and drives unusual behavior.  In the words I keep coming back to again and again from Emmanuel Cardinal Suhard, ever since I came across them in seventh period creative writing class:

To be a witness does not consist of engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery.  It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.

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