After the signature ping of aluminum bat meeting baseball resulted in a double down the left field line, I stood hunched over, catching my breath at second base. The double ear-flapped helmet obscured my peripheral vision as well as the cheers from the small crowd comprised of other parents in the bleachers. The run I represented held great significance. Well, it did for the twelve year old version of me some thirty years ago. As the potential winning run, I was the difference between a team victory and extra innings. And the customary reward for a win, a free cherry sno-cone from the snack stand behind home plate, tightened my focus. Well, truth is, we got that sno-cone regardless of whether we won or lost, but I digress.
As I shuffle off second base to take my primary lead, my eyes are locked on the pitcher taking his position on the mound. In the split second that I glance behind me to find where the shortstop is positioned, the pitcher spins around and relays the perfect pick-off throw to the second base bag. Whether by some ill-conceived plan to appear as an accomplished ballplayer, or out of sheer instinct, I dive back headfirst towards the bag. There is a very good reason why headfirst diving is discouraged in little league baseball. I learned exactly why in the seconds that followed.
As my outstretched fingers attempted to touch the safety of second base before the approaching ball tagged me out, I overestimated the distance between me and the base. With too much force and excessive momentum, my fingers jammed into the side of the base. What used to be of utmost importance now meant nothing. I didn’t care whether I was out or safe. All I cared about was the searing pain running through my fingers as they collided with the stationary base.
The imminent swelling and varied shades of blue color brought tears to my eyes. Partially from the excruciating pain, the tears carried more emotion from the anticipated plans for the coming week. With an injury to the fingers on my glove hand, it would be extremely difficult to participate in the baseball camp I was scheduled to attend at Penn State University. Was I excited to learn baseball skills that would improve my game? Absolutely. Was it my sole purpose for wanting to attend this camp? Decidedly, no. With an opportunity to stay in college dorms, eat in the dining halls, and maintain responsibility for my own schedule, it provided me an opportunity to develop and exercise independence. A healthy dose of ice, some tape wrapped around my fingers, and a stubborn resolve to carry forward allowed me to attend that summer camp, to develop that independent spirit.
Fast forward thirty years to the present day. With our son sitting in the back seat, my wife and I are driving him to his first week long Boy Scout summer camp. And although my camp experience occurred so long ago, it is one of the most vivid memories from my youth, most likely due to the impact it imparted on the aforementioned opportunity for independence. I remember feeling a mix of nervous anxiety and eager anticipation for that chance to strike out on my own, even if it was only for a week. Back and forth, the emotions rattled inside. And here I sit in the driver’s seat feeling the same thing, for myself, my wife, and my son.
Over the course of this past week, my wife and I have attempted to keep ourselves occupied, acknowledging the void in our household, struggling to not let our son’s absence affect us too deeply. It’s amazing how much you miss the sarcastic comments, the random sounds emanating from his room, the assortment of clothes scattered in the most unconventional places all around the house. And by unconventional, I mean everywhere but the laundry basket. The subtle reminders of his presence are missed dearly, especially his voice.
I have been away from my son for a week long period on many different occasions. But, I have never been away from his voice for that long. Even while traveling halfway around the world, I was able to call him from another continent, the radio waves bouncing from satellite to satellite in order to connect us for a few moments each day. And here we are separated by a mere two hours of driving between the Boy Scout camp and our house without a hint of verbal connection.
And so, with the help of a suggestion by my wife, I devised a different way to stay connected with my son over this past week. Although decidedly one sided, I have formulated a story, broken up into five individual pieces, which I have shared with him by the e-mail he receives from us each afternoon at camp. The ironic thing is that story and the process of writing it helped me as much as I hope it will have helped him.
The Arctic Tern is an amazing bird. Each year, it travels up to twenty five thousand miles in migration from its Arctic breeding grounds to its wintering grounds off of Antarctica. Over the span of its lifetime, it travels a distance equivalent to the space between the Earth and the moon, three times over. Although we don’t necessarily need to reach for these extremes, it behooves us to spread our wings on occasion and take flight into the unknown. Flying away from what is comfortable can open our eyes to new possibilities and bring us a sense for what it truly means to be home, not only in our house, but also in our heart. For now, I am looking forward to flying north in our car tomorrow morning to pick up our son, give him a hug, and find out just how far he has flown over the past week.