I'm not a baseball fan. I'm not opposed to baseball as a sport, and I take in a game or two each season. But I'm not a diehard fan. I don't pretend to understand the subtleties of the sport. So when I began reading The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach I was a bit nonplussed that my husband had given it to me as a Valentine's day gift. I was reading and thinking "he bought this book because he wants to read it. I hate it when he does that." But then I got into the bit about Moby Dick and being the literary fan I am, I was hooked. Baseball has been used as a metaphor for life lessons, probably since its birth. And Harbach's spin on it does not disappoint. The way he used the game engaged me. Maybe it was the combination of baseball and literature weaving in and out of one another....a respectable challenge for a writer to take on, I have to admit. But damn, my husband was right. I loved the book.
So here's my takeaway. I have to set it up a bit. The main character of the book, Henry, is recruited by a member of the baseball team of a small midwestern college, Schwartzy. Schwartzy recognized Henry's unique grace and skill as a short stop and made it his mission to coach him into getting a spot on the team and a full-ride scholarship. With some great story telling and very likeable characters, Harbach made me love Henry champion him, root for him. As Henry struggled with the opportunities his talent brought to him, Harbach gives him this great little monologue.
"All he'd ever wanted was for nothing to ever change. Or for things to change only in the right ways, improving little by little, day by day, forever. It sounded crazy when you said it like that, but that was what baseball had promised him, what Westish College had promised him, what Schwartzy had promised him. The dream of every day the same. Every day was like the day before but a little better. You ran the stadium a little faster. You bench-pressed a little more. You hit the ball a little harder in the cage; you watched the tape with Schwartzy afterward and gained a little insight into your swing. Your swing grew a little simpler. Everything grew simpler, little by little. You ate the same food, woke up at the same time, wore the same clothes. Hitches, bad habits, useless thoughts -- whatever you didn't need slowly fell away. Whatever was simple and useful remained. You improved little by little till the day it all became perfect and stayed that way. Forever."
And I thought, yes. That is what I want to let go of. Not so much that I want things to stay the same, but this internal idea that I get from somewhere (innate, family, media? who knows) that every day should lead me one step closer to perfection. That I need to always be working to change myself and make something about myself better. Even as I read this I am thinking to myself, "well what's wrong with that? That seems like a good life goal." But for me it's a trap. I need more days where I can sit down and say you are OK just the way you are, Christine, you do not need to make anything "better" today. There's freedom in that.
Maybe that's not where Harbach was going. But that's the beauty of literature. I, the reader, get to pick what I resonate with and why. It depends on where I happen to be at the particular moment that I read that excerpt. That's why I love to read.