Friday, April 2, 2010

Hallowed ground...

I ran into my former employers, husband and wife, the other day and we stopped to chat for a few minutes and catch up on the past five years of our lives.

My boss asked me how my children were doing and I told her about the girls graduating from college and their careers. Then she asked me about my son. I hesitated for a second, thinking surely they knew—they must have read it in the newspaper—then just simply told them Andrew had died from suicide last April. From the shocked looks on their faces, they didn’t know, but my boss said, “Oh, I am so sorry. I didn’t know, or I forgot.” I tried to remember if they had sent me a sympathy card or not…I had thought so, but I guess not.

Yes, forgot…it is easy to do when it’s not your family, your loss, I thought, without bitterness. I routinely read the obits and myself would sort of hesitate when encountering people from my hometown, thinking, “Gee, was it her father who just passed away?”

Life is strange, I thought, how we travel on parallel paths, concerned with the events in our own lives, unaware of others until we cross paths once again. I was working for this person when Andrew first began exhibiting signs of paranoia. I asked her advice and took time off of work to take Andrew to some of his appointments with the therapists we were trying out. She knew some of our most intimate details of the struggle at that time. She also had personally experienced the suicide of a family member. But she didn’t know about my son’s death until now. I hoped I hadn’t been too blunt. It just came out the way I have been trying to deal with it—out in the open, directly.

Reflecting on that encounter reminded me of how I feel now when I watch a high school football game. I went to one last October to watch a nephew play. All during the game, as the players set up each play, I would see Andrew. One of his roles was the kicker, and I could feel him taking those steps as I watched these boys, just in the same way I took each step with him when he play on the same field. They had better honor him, I remember thinking to myself, since they are stepping in his footsteps now. Then I thought about how my son had traced the same steps as hundreds of players before him…the field has been there at least 70 years. I wonder how many of the kids currently taking the field think about those that have gone before them.

The same thing goes for the baseball field that he loved to play on at the lake park. When I went to high school, our baseball team held their games there before a new field was built on the school campus. For Andrew, it was the home of Babe Ruth Baseball. He played there for three years in junior high and his freshmen years. Prior to that, he was the ball boy for a semi-pro team made up of high school and junior college-age players who called that field home, so he hung out there a lot. It was hallowed ground to him.

Come to think of it, Andrew’s father had played there in his youth, as well. I wonder if Andrew had ever thought of that when he was playing on the field, especially in the position of catcher, same as his daddy—that he was walking in his father’s footsteps, catching the ball, throwing down to second base, blocking a pitch behind the plate, making a tag as the runner came sliding in. I’m sure he had thought of it—Andrew tried to emulate his dad, and Andrew loved playing on that field.

That is one reason I picked that baseball field as the site of his memorial service. It was a place where his dreams were formed and some of them played out. He experienced some awesome moments there, shared the comraderie of team sports and the excitement of baseball. We watched him play there and struggle to succeed there. He always wanted to be great. I think that, many times, he achieved greatness there.

One thing Andrew had always wanted to do was to hit a home run ball into the lake. He did get some home runs over the fence a couple of times, but I don’t think he ever made it into the water. So at his memorial service I had a pitching machine set up and asked that anyone wanting to take a few swings in Andrew’s memory were welcome to try and hit one into the lake for him.

Several months later I ran into some old friends, the dad who had coached Andrew in baseball and whose son had played baseball and football with Andrew for their whole lives. They had something for me, the dad said. They had gone back to the field a few weeks later and took some swings. Andrew’s buddy had hit one out into the lake for him!