A small, six year old boy begins to don his catcher’s equipment for the first time; the gear hangs clunkily from from his tiny frame, the shinguards a bit too long, the helmet swallowing his small head like the unwieldy face mask of a medieval knight. Jacob velcros the final shin guard onto the tiny catcher as the other boys run out to their positions. “What if I get hit with the ball?” I hear him question timidly. He stares at home plate, not following the other players out onto the field.
Yesterday afternoon was Cohen’s baseball game. Jacob is the head coach and my dad is the assistant coach. I get stressed out at these things. Really- there I am, sitting on the sidelines buried in babies where no one even notices me– and this beautiful, annoying Mind of mine starts to notice all those EYES! I’m nervous the parents will be judgmental. I’m nervous for Jacob and if he’ll be able to pitch over-the-plate to the kids. I’m nervous that he will say the right thing, that parents will wonder if he’s coaching “right”, if he’s playing their kids in the right positions, if he’s coaching too much or too little. This stress is uniquely irrational: One- because it’s not me, it’s Jacob. Two, because it’s first and second graders. Three, because time and time again Life shows me that most people are good and decent when you get to know them. But I worry anyway. Those EYES!
Jump ahead 12 hours: Today we had Writers Day at Cary Grove. Different authors and poets came to speak to our creative writing classes, and at the end of the day, nine student performers shared original poetry. I was nervous for them– all of them– the students and the professionals– because didn’t they notice them??– didn’t they notice all those EYES?? I think they did notice them (hands shook/ voices stuttered), but they got up anyway; they stood on stage and they shared something they made.
Some of their poetry resonated with me, and some of it didn’t. But you want to know what always resonated– what truth hummed– holy and sweet and invisible in the air? It was this willingness to say: Look, here I am. I made something. And I want you to hear it.
“Have you ever heard of Captain America?” Jacob asks. He’s kneeling so he is eye-level with the boy, and the small catcher nods. “What’s his most important weapon?” The boy stares at him. “His shield, right?” Jacob says. “This–” he holds up the boy’s glove, “Is like your shield. And the rest of this is your armor.” The boy’s glove is so big it’s an effort for him to hold it up, but he traces Jacob’s movements with his tiny arm, back and forth, back and forth, imagining shielding himself from any oncoming enemy pitches.
I’m still a little nervous, but I realize I don’t have to be.
Several batters into the game, there is a loud “thunk”. A pitch has hit the tiny catcher right in the chest. “You okay buddy?” Jacob asks. There is only a moment’s hesitation, perhaps only a moment a mother would notice; then–a tiny “thumbs-up” pointed to the sky, and the game continues.
So speak! Our fear just might make another person brave enough to enter the game.