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When Watching Hurts…

The goal is to have better character, more integrity, more empathy

I sat looking through the bleak diamonds of a chain link fence. My daughter stood on the other side, maybe 30 feet away. I couldn’t do anything to help her. What a helpless sensation. That feeling hurts.

It was nighttime and there were bright lights shining. She was at bat for her softball team and staring down a pitcher at least six inches taller than her. They were both ten years old. There are some disparities in physical development that go with the territory of youth sports. Not to mention, just because someone grew tall quickly doesn’t mean she’s in control yet.

Taking the Hit

The pitch hit my daughter right in her side just below her ribs. There was some juice on that ball and it looked like it hurt. You can see it in action here:

So yeah, that looked painful. I stopped recording video right then because I was more worried about my daughter. She continued to writhe in pain like that for about 30 more seconds. She stayed on her feet though, and she didn’t cry.

Then she hobbled to her base.

I wanted to rush over there and grab her. I felt the instinct, the primal desire, to protect my little baby cub. To be clear, I wasn’t upset with the pitcher at all—she was a 10-year old girl too. The hit was unintentional and that happens in softball at our level pretty often. All I wanted was to make sure my little girl was okay.

One of the most frustrating parts of the whole experience was that I physically couldn’t have made it to her in time to do anything. The gate through the chain link fence was on the other side of the dugout, probably 20 to 30 yards away from where the spectators sit.

So instead, I got to watch it all happen, powerless to do anything.

Thankfully, she was fine, other than a little soreness that night. By the next day she was as good as new. But I started thinking about that moment and what it did to me, and why I reacted as I did.

Life Hurts

That little event caused me to reflect about life in general, from a wider perspective. In a way, it seemed to relate to our lives.

My daughter knows how to play softball and she knows how to hit. She was ready for a pitch to come her way. When a bad pitch comes, she knows to let it go, and when it’s a good one, she swings. Her stance is good, her swing is strong and consistent, and she stares down the pitcher with a teensy (just a smidgen) of fire. That’s how you do it.

More than once she’s dodged errant pitches too. This wasn’t the first time she’s had one come her way. But in spite of all of that, in spite of the practice, both with her team and one-on-one in the backyard, and in spite of her skill, there wasn’t a thing she could do about that one pitch. It defied everything she had done to prepare.

That’s life. And that phrase is more true than it is sardonic.The goal is to have better character, more integrity, more empathy

There are times when “the pitch” hits you right in the “life,” so to speak. You might be experienced and practiced, savvy with managing all your appointments and tasks. Your stance might be right, balanced checkbook and healthy savings. Maybe you can swing with the best of them, exercising regularly and eating right. When you stare down the tough times, you have fiery glint too, not afraid of change and difficulty.

But the hit might still hurt. It might hit you in a soft spot and drop you right to your knees. And then you look up dazed and wonder what just happened.

What Hurts?

I’ll admit this right now, I haven’t been through everything hard in life. I’ve had my share, but I don’t know if one could consider it a “fair share” or not. Honestly, I think I’ve gotten off easy to this point (which somewhere in the back of my mind makes me a little nervous). But I want to talk about some things that have happened to people I know.

These are the stray pitches that you just can’t escape (note: names changed).

One of my best friends from High School (Lynn) married one of my other best friends (Andrew). We had hung out practically every day since we were sophomores. Lynn and I went to a couple of dances. Andrew and I vegged our brains out on computer games from time to time. They got married in 2000. I moved away from our hometown for my first job but they stayed. After two little kids were born, Lynn was diagnosed with cancer. It wasn’t good and she didn’t have much time. I watched from afar as the Facebook posts came and went, and she only got worse. She passed away recently. What could you do to prepare for that? That one hurts.The goal is to have better character, more integrity, more empathy

Jane and Phil have three beautiful little children. If you were to meet them for the first time, you would think they were pretty much the coolest people you ever knew, witty and fun. What you wouldn’t know was that they actually have four children. One of them lasted less than a single day though, and it is probably one of the hardest days for them. And they get reminded of it year after year now. That’s a tough pitch.

Allen and Deb sold everything they had, moved to a new place, and started a business. It was their dream to own this store they had purchased. They bought a truck and started making deliveries. But the economy sunk, and customers slowly faded. They worked hard and tried to keep it going for almost ten years, but in the end they were left with nothing. So it goes.

Love Hurts

Everyone has either lived through or knows someone who has been through similar experiences. No one is exempt, although the variety of difficulties might be astounding if we ever counted them up. This is where my thinking took me though. Because in considering those anecdotes along with the many others we could share, don’t you start to wonder a little bit?

I took my moment of angst watching my daughter get hit with a softball and wondered about a parent watching their child go through something much more difficult. And what about when you’re watching your child do something of their own accord that is going to lead them right into one of those pitches? How is that for a parent?

That’s hard too. Maybe harder than to live through it.

The goal is to have better character, more integrity, more empathyI wanted to reach through that chain link fence and take the pain away. Just as much, I wanted her to know she wasn’t alone. But I couldn’t do it. When it comes to the very hard things, there are times when the wiser observer wants to pinch hit.

But this is why love hurts. You can’t jump in and do it for them. No pinch hitters most of the time. Instead, you have to sit back in the bleachers and let that pitch go to them. You might have to watch it hit them. And you might have to accept that it’s better that way.

If you don’t, they won’t become stronger, better, or more capable.

Honestly, I think this is how God must feel most of the time. I know a lot of people blame Him for their problems. But don’t you feel like he’s just sitting on his hands wishing he could jump in and do that little thing for you, but He knows better? He knows that for you to become capable of making the next decision, a bigger one that is waiting for you down the road, He has to let you feel some pain right now. Parents do that too.

So when you really love someone, that might mean you see the pitch coming but you don’t do anything about it. And that hurts.

What if it were Easier?

Is life better if it’s easier? I have heard the positive argument to this question many times, often in regards to political discussions, which I try my best to avoid. The best example I can think of is one regarding college tuition. One proponent of free college asked me (rhetorically I assume): don’t you want your kids to have it better than you?

What an interesting question. It’s hard to say no to that one. I don’t think I ever would say no to it. But it’s interesting because I don’t think the implied “yes” relates to the topic. Yes I’d like my kids to have it better than me, but I don’t think that free tuition has anything to do with that. The implication of it is that they are better off if there is less struggle.

But that is false.

I think “having it better” means that you understand what it takes to get what you have, not necessarily to have more. Maybe my kids will grow up to have more material wealth than I have, or maybe they won’t. I don’t think that should be the goal. Having it better doesn’t mean you got it free, or easily, or with no work. The goal should be to be better. That is, have a better character, more integrity, more kindness, and more empathy.

The goal is to have better character, more integrity, more empathy

So when the tough pitches start flying, those that have the experience need to be there as moral support, but not step into the lineup. I shouted all kinds of “you can do its” through the chain link fence. I wished my hardest for her. But in the end, only she could step up to the plate.


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Photo credit: T Hall via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: mf.flaherty via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND



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