We made it to Fall. We’ve almost completed October. The days are getting shorter. Today we were going to the car to go out to eat and noticed the clouds were turning colors. We quickly paced to the ocean to try to catch the sunset and just missed it. It was only 6:14pm. I though the sun was still sitting around 7pm. The maples are turning all around us, bringing bright yellows and oranges to the understories of the mountains. We made it.
If you know me, have talked to me, or have read the few posts I’ve managed to turn out recently, you’ve probably picked up on the theme that I’ve had a challenging year. If you can step back from an experience and look at it through your long-term goggles, there is comfort in knowing that challenges produce growth. We can often look at our most difficult times as the things that shape our character. But, in the short term, difficult times jade us, make us more impatient, they wear away at our hopefulness. We made it, but it feels like I drug myself out, and it’s time for that growth. It’s time for a new birth.
October is when playoff baseball happens. I love baseball, but I’m a Cubs fan, and that doesn’t always mean I have much interest in October baseball. Now is different, though. These Cubs are different. For my lifetime, being a Cubs fan has meant coming up short. It’s meant tempered expectations. It’s meant good teams that steal your heart, but then your hearts break together when they can’t quite make it, when the pressure collapses on them. Too many disappointing experiences can do something to a hopeful fan. It skews reality. It makes it seem like some sort of destiny, something predetermined. I’m tired of that.
This Cubs team is built from scratch. In the early 2010s this team got rid of all the extra weight, it shed it’s big contracts, traded expensive players on the other end of their prime for young players not yet proven. They tanked.
I still watched, because I love baseball and I love the Cubs. As they began to improve, I decided I wanted to be a different kind of fan. I didn’t want to be nervous, waiting for the moment they would blow it. I didn’t want to second guess them like sports fan are often want to do. I wanted to be a fan pure and simple. I didn’t want to give up on a team who might come back. I didn’t want to base supporting a team simply on the likelihood of their success. What kind of fan is that? So, I reinvented my fan philosophy, pushing myself to be open to the idea they could win anytime, no matter the odds, not because it was logical but because it felt like the thing a true fan should be for his team.
And, they did improve. And, I did not get nervous. I worked to stop letting the disappointment cloud my thoughts about the present. Sure, it sucked to see them lose, but being a fan came first above winning or losing. Winning is great, but loving something is more fulfilling. They got real good, real fast. They have been reborn. Rebranded. Reincarnated from the cocky, hell-raising 1907-08 team who mowed down the competition. They are in the playoffs, and I am not afraid for them. They are also unafraid in a way I’ve never quite seen in a Cubs team.
During the playoff games this month, there’s been a commercial for something athletic (I can’t remember the product) where a bunch of people are getting up early, exercising hard, giving it all they got, and it plays the riff from Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman.” It’s this 10 minute force of nature, that makes me want to run until I’m totally out of juice all while contemplating life, death, good and evil, mystery, sin, mercy, hope, and hopelessness.
I kept hearing that riff between innings, and I wanted to hear it in its entirety. I wanted to do some running to it. I tuned my ipod to shuffle my collection of Nina Simone discography, and I took off on the beach. The run felt important. It ran with conviction like I was running from something or to something. I felt this need to break out of something, to shake something off. To be born into something new. I ran into the mist coming off the ocean. It feels like I’ve spent many days this year running into a mist. On this day I ran with strength, with hunger.
In the second game of the NLCS, the Cubs’ bats went cold. This looked like what happened last year when after they breezed past the Pirates and Cardinals in the playoffs, they all of a sudden couldn’t hit against a Mets team they had swept in the regular season. The Cubs haven’t been in a World Series since 1945. They have been the playoffs 7 times since and gotten really close to being back in the World Series, but each time it slipped out of their hands. Here we were again, and the bats were going cold again, with the World Series in arms length. This team is different though. I was determined not to give up on my team, especially not this team. They are different. They are a Cubs team like nothing I’ve ever seen.
I’m working hard to get back into a more aggressive practice of running. I’m trying to wake my body up and also wake the rest of myself up too. I want to feel that burst of life and channel it into everything else. I want passion coursing through my arteries and feel the energy that explodes out of a person from it. Like that feeling of being submerged in the cold river, having the sound muffled by the water, light being distorted by liquid. Then, all of sudden you are yanked up from the water and you rise up feeling like you’ve just been pulled from a womb. It is messy, it is exhausting, maybe even scary, but damn it, you are alive and you know what it’s like to feel.
As I was running back I picked up the pace, seeing my end point. I lifted my knees a little higher, swung my arms a little stronger, puffed my chest out. I felt strong. “Feeling Good” came on, and I felt myself take on a more pronounced swagger when it went from just Nina Simone’s voice to that great trumpet intro.
I felt ready to move. Tired of being resigned to disappointment, to coming up short, to not being enough. Tired of worrying, tired of anxiousness. Wanting to be strong, to be confident, to love hard. To be born anew.
I was out running errands and wanted to take my time during the afternoon on Saturday. I decided to take a backroad I did not know. It winded back on the south side of the Miami River past a few houses and quickly turned to gravel. I kept going and it climbed the mountain, rising up over the Tillamook bay, looking over Garibaldi and the Pacific beyond. I had never seen this incredible view of this place I’m growing to know more and more deeply. I parked the car and got out, looking over this kingdom. It was a beautiful Fall day. I made it. I made it to this time of recovery, this time of greater rest. I made it to the mountain for a time, before making my way back into the valley.
I won’t be able to predict with any greater accuracy whether wins or loses are in my future. But, I do want to look on it with clearer eyes. I want to see it like new, with freshness. I want to be new again. It will surely be a journey like it all is. I’m trying to listen to Cubs’ coach Joe Maddon, who regularly tells his players, “Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure.” I took deep breaths looking down on my beautiful home trying hard to deeply inhale the pleasure and deeply exhale the pressure. I want to continue this drive to make things new, to see things I’ve never seen yet in my life. To be an agent of new birth. I must keep running, pushing for that newness despite the odds.
And, if you didn’t know, the Cubs’ bats came back with a vengeance. I will watch them in the World Series for the first time in my life.